A letter written by the apostle Paul to Christian believers of churches he had established in the Galatian region of central Asia Minor. There are differences of opinion as to the exact region here spoken of a Galatia--whether it is the Roman province by that name or the older region to the north settled by a body of migrating Gauls--and, as a result, differing views as to the point in Paul's ministry when the circumstances that occasioned the epistle arose. The expression "so soon" of Gal 1:6 has been understood as indicating either soon after the founding of the Galatian churches or relatively soon after a later visit to them. According to one theory (South Galatian), the cities of Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, which Paul visited on his 1st journey (Acts 13:14 to 14:23) and revisited on his 2nd journey (chs 15:35 to 16:6), were in the Galatia of Gal 1:2. According to this theory the epistle was written in the course of Paul's 2nd journey. According to another theory (North Galatian), the region referred to as Galatia lay to the north, and the time of the writing of the epistle was during the course of his 3rd journey, so as to allow for the 2 prior visits (cf. Gal 4:13). The great similarity to Romans in subject matter may be understood to indicate that the 2 epistles were prompted by the same problem--the Jewish heresy--and that they were written at about the same time. If so, the date of writing would be the winter of a.d. 57 58, and the place of writing doubtless Corinth. Furthermore, facts mentioned in connection with the visit alluded to in Gal 4:13 15--Pau's illness, his cordial reception by the Galatians, and the implication that they were indebted to him alone--do not comport with the known circumstances of the 1st journey described in detail in Acts 13:14 to 14:23. This dictionary adopts a modified form of the North Galatian theory. The authenticity of the Galatian epistle and its right to a place in the canon have never been seriously questioned. The historical situation reflected in it is fully in accord with known facts and the style is distinctly that of the apostle Paul.
The book of Galatians deals with the greatest single doctrinal problem of the apostolic era--the relationship between Christianity and Judaism. To Christian believers of that time, and to Jewish Christians in particular, this was a perplexing problem. To begin with, Christianity was strictly Jewish. Our Lord, Himself a Jew (Romans 1:3), had declared salvation to be "of the Jews" (Jn 4:22). At His ascension He commanded that the gospel should first be preached to the Jews (Acts 1:8; cf. ch 13:46), and for some years thereafter most Christians were Jews and as such continued to practice the Mosaic rites and ceremonies. As devout Jews they naturally expected Gentile converts to conform to Jewish ritual requirements. But evidence that God accepted Gentile believers apart from Judaism (chs 10:44 48; 11:1 18; 15:1 20) posed the question as to whether the ancient rites and ceremonies were still essential to salvation. About a.d. 49 the Jerusalem Council (ch 15) officially resolved the issue, declaring Gentile Christians to be free from the requirements of Jewish law (vs. 19, 20), but in actual practice a great many Jewish Christians seem never to have fully understood or accepted the decision. It was difficult for them to grasp that the ritual system divinely ordained 15 cent. before had now become obsolete and unnecessary. A Judaizing party arose that advocated that all Gentile converts should become practising Jews, and sought to force their point of view upon Paul's Gentile converts. Such were the circumstances that called forth the Galatian epistle, which deals with the problem in terms of a particular situation that had arisen.
Against the Judaizing argument that Gentile believers must accept circumcision, the sign of the covenant and of admission to the commonwealth of Israel, Paul maintained that justification comes by faith in Christ alone (Gal 6:13; 5:1 4). Whereas the Judaizers held that salvation depends upon compliance with the legal requirements of the law of Moses, that is, upon "the works of the law" (ch 2:16), the book of Galatians declares this concept to be altogether incompatible with the principle of justification by faith (chs 2:21; 5:1 4; 6:15). Salvation cannot be earned, but must be accepted as a free gift. After a short introduction (ch 1:1 5) Paul briefly outlines the problem in Galatia (vs. 6, 7). He then affirms the divine origin of his version of the gospel and cites evidence to prove that the apostles in Jerusalem acknowledged its validity and his right to build up the Gentile church on that basis (chs 1:8 to 2:14). In the doctrinal argument that follows--the heart of the epistle--he essays, by setting forth evidence from the OT Scriptures, to prove that "a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ" (chs 2:16 to 5:12). In chs 5:13 to 6:10 he makes a practical application of the principle of justification by faith by showing the fruit it will produce in the life of the believer.
The line of argument in the doctrinal section (Gal 2:16 to 5:12) proceeds thus: Salvation cannot be earned by compliance with the "works" prescribed by the Jewish law, but only by faith in Christ's death for sins and in His living out His life within the believer (ch 2:16 21). This the Galatians knew to be true because they had received the Holy Spirit by faith, altogether apart from works of law (ch 3:1 5). Abraham himself was justified by faith, and is therefore the spiritual father of believing Gentiles, who thereby become eligible to the blessings promised to him (vs. 6 9). No one has ever complied perfectly with the requirements of the law, and all are accordingly under the curse of the law and can be redeemed only by faith in Christ (vs. 10 14). The law was added 430 years after the covenant was vouchsafed to Abraham, as a "schoolmaster" until the coming of Christ, the covenant "seed," in order that men might the more readily enter into the covenant experience of salvation by faith. The law did not annul the covenant promise of salvation by faith in Christ, nor did it provide another way of salvation (Gal 3:15 29). Prior to the coming of Christ the Jews were like an heir during his nonage, with "the law" as their appointed guardian. But since Christ came men are no longer under the tutelage, or jurisdiction, of the legal system with its rites and ceremonies (ch 4:1 12). In a brief interlude Paul next reminds the Galatians of their joy upon accepting the gospel as he preached it (vs. 13 20). Then, by the allegory of Abraham's 2 sons (vs. 21 31), he stresses the point that believing Christians are, like Isaac, children of the covenant promise and thus not under bondage to the law as the children of a bondwoman would be. The line of argument is brought to a conclusion in ch 5:1 12, where Paul declares categorically what he has already proved, that circumcision and the other requirements of the legal system avail nothing for the Christian, and that anyone who seeks justification by the works of the law has fallen from grace.
The epistle to the Galatians was written to meet a specific situation in the apostolic church, but the principle therein set forth--that men are saved, not by supposed works of merit, but by faith alone--is as true today as it was then. Legalism of any kind--the seeking of merit with God by the performance of certain acts--is worthless, since "man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ" (Gal 2:16).
Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.