Paul’s letter to the Galatians was probably written about 55 AD, although there is some uncertainty about this. Paul was not writing to a particular church but to a group of churches. Some think these churches were in northern Asia Minor but others believe the letter is to churches in southern Galatia. The Roman Empire reorganized regions and renamed places which causes uncertainty about specifically to whom Paul was writing. Unfortunately Acts does not help us figure this out.
Scholars do think that the churches in Galatia, whoever they were, were mostly made up of gentile (pagan) converts. In this letter, Paul deals with the question of whether gentiles must be circumcised and follow Torah in order to be Christian. It appears that in the churches in Galatia, some people were teaching that Gentile Christians must also become Jewish ( be circumcised and follow the Law) in addition to having faith in Jesus Christ. Paul disagrees strenuously.
It seems that Paul’s credentials as an apostle have been questioned by some in Galatia. In addition Paul’s teaching of the gospel- faith in Christ alone- has been challenged as inadequate. Paul responds by describing his personal experience and the personal experiences of the Spirit by the Galatian Christians. Then Paul reinterprets Torah based on faith in Jesus Christ. Torah is both set aside and fulfilled by Christ. A Christian’s identity is found, not in the practices of Torah but in Jesus Christ.
The Letter to the Galatians is an important letter and it is a difficult letter. It is emotional and polemical and at the same time passionate and eloquent about God’s grace toward humanity.
We hope the following outline will be useful as you read and think about this letter.
1:1-10 Introduction to the Letter
1:6-10 The problem in Galatia. Note that Paul skips his usual expression of Thanksgiving.
1:11-2:21 Defense of Paul’s gospel and Paul’s apostolic authority
1:11-17 Paul received the gospel by revelation
1:18-24 Paul tells of his visit to Jerusalem
2:1-10 Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem, Paul’s apostleship recognized
2:11-14 At Antioch, confrontation with Cephas (Peter) over his inconsistency
2:15-21 These verses may be a continuation of Paul’s statement to Cephas or they may be read as the beginning of Paul’s message to the Galatians.
3:1-4:31 Paul’s argument: Justification by Faith
3:1-5 Paul appeals to the Galatian’s experience
3:6-18 Appeals to Scripture
3:19-29 Law and Faith, Unity in baptism
4:1-11 Slavery and Adoption
4:12-20 Paul’s personal appeal
4:21-4:31 A final argument, The allegory of Hagar and Sarah
5:1-6:10 Final admonition and instruction
5:1-12 Freedom and the slavery of circumcision
5:13-26 Freedom and the discipline of the Spirit
6:1-10 Practical instructions