While writing this series of messages on the book of Galatians, I researched the history of the Galatian people. I turned to a number of noted Christian writers for this information and I discovered a number of very interesting things about the Galatians.
This epistle was probably written A. D. 60, during Paul’s third visit to the city of Corinth but the message it contains is very up to date and still pertains to today. Paul had just received information that the Galatians, who were not Greeks, but were Gauls, actually barbarians that had come into Greece in the third century before Christ and had become believers in Christ through Paul’s preaching, and were being mislead by some Jewish legalizers. These Jews from Palestine were false teachers who taught a mixture of Law and Grace for salvation, and that keeping salvation was by keeping the Law of Moses.
Galatia was a Roman province in Asia Minor. According to the records we have, the provinces of Pisidia and Lycaonia were united as Galatia at this time, so these really were where Paul labored and where God did such mighty works in the Gospel. This would include Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, cities where Paul ministered on his first missionary journey recorded in Acts 13 & 14.
The Galatians are the same people racially as the ancient inhabitants of Ireland, Wales, the Highlands of Scotland, of France and northern Spain, called Gauls. They later spread from Galatia over into western Europe, often on military conquests, and settled in France and northern Spain, and then came over to the British Isles. The Gauls here in Asia Minor, were Gentiles, not Israelites, although there may have been some mixing with the Jews.
When Paul first went there they were all idolaters, but through the preaching of the Word, many of them got saved and became devoted to the man who led them to know the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior.
According to Dr. C. I. Scofield, the theme of Galatians is "the vindication of the Gospel of the grace of God from any admixture of law or conditions which qualify or destroy its character of pure grace." While all Scripture is inspired and is profitable for us, it would be impossible to overemphasize the importance of the epistle to the Galatians.
It must have seemed wonderful to them to be brought from the darkness of heathenism into the glorious light of the gospel. But sometimes when people accept the gospel message, they have to go through very severe testing afterward, and that proved to be the case with the Galatians.
Paul's message caused the miraculous healing of a lame man when he and Barnabus came into Lystra. Acts 14:9-10: The same heard Paul speak: who stedfastly beholding him, and perceiving that he had faith to be healed, (Paul) Said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped and walked." The idol worshippers there treated them as gods because of this miracle and the people worshipped them. They called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius. After they refused to be worshipped, certain Jews came in and they stoned Paul to death.
Acts 14:19 tells about the stoning of the Apostle Paul. The stoning was done by "certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium," but some of the people in the city of Lystra also joined these Jews in stoning Paul.
He actually was stoned to death and dragged outside the city and left for dead. While his disciples stood round mourning his death, "He rose up and came into the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabus to Derbe." (Acts 14:19-20).
As this points out, it certainly didn’t take long for these Pagans to turn from their attitude of worship of Paul and Barnabus to one of hostility and murder.
It wouldn’t be possible for a man to rise up and walk after being stoned to death except for the power of God. I believe Paul was dead and the Holy Spirit, the same One that raised Christ from the dead, brought Paul's spirit back into his body, and he was actually raised from the dead. He immediately went back into the city where he had been stoned and left for dead.
After such an ordeal, I’m sure the people were afraid when they saw Paul walk back into the city and he was permitted to remain in Lystra the night without any further harm or protest.
In Galatians 4:13 we read, "Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first." This "infirmity of the flesh" may have been the result of Paul's experience at Lystra which must have disabled him and he may have been hindered from going on his journeys so he preached the gospel to the Galatians instead. It could be that the stoning of Paul was a great blessing in disguise. It could be that this was God's way of giving the church Paul’s letter to the Galatian believers.
Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 12:1, that “he knew a man (whether the man was in the body or out of the body he did not know) but such a man was caught up into the Third Heaven, into Paradise, and saw and heard things that were unlawful to tell.” Since Bible authorities believe that 2 Corinthians was written about A. D. 60, it could be that Paul was referring to himself and his experience at Lystra when he was stoned and dragged outside the city for dead. He states "about fourteen years ago," and that would place the experience at the time of his stoning at Lystra. Personally, I believe he was referring to this experience and that Paul actually got a preview of God’s heaven.
Paul’s epistle to the Galatians has close ties with his letter to the Romans. There is good reason to believe that both of these letters were written at about the same time, probably from Corinth while Paul was ministering in that city.
In Romans we have the fullest, the most complete opening up of the gospel of the grace of God that we get anywhere in the New Testament.
In the letter to the Galatians we have the gospel message defended against those who were seeking to substitute legality for grace.
There are many expressions in the two letters that are very similar. Both letters, and also the epistle to the Hebrews, are based on one Old Testament text found in Habakkuk 2: "The just shall live by faith."
In Romans the emphasis is put on the first two words, “the just.” How can men be just with God? The answer is, "The just shall live by faith."
But if we have been justified by faith how are we maintained in that place before God? The answer is given in the epistle to the Galatians, and there the emphasis is on the next two words, “shall live.” "The just shall live by faith."
But what power can make men just and by which they can live? The epistle to the Hebrews answers that by putting the emphasis on the last two words of the same text, “by faith.” "The just shall live by faith."
Those three letters have many similarities, and in spite of what some scholars say to the contrary, the three letters may well have come from the same hand, the apostle Paul.
Paul labored in Galatia on two separate occasions. He planned to go there a third time but the Holy Spirit led him elsewhere and eventually over to Europe.
With some really good insight, the early Christian writer, Jerome, elaborated on one of the problems Paul dealt with in Galatia and that we still have to deal with in the church today. He said: "Really there are four classes of ministry in the professing Christian Church. First, there are those sent neither from men, nor through men, but directly from God." And then he points out that this was true of the prophets of the Old Testament dispensation.
They were not commissioned by men, neither authorized by men, but they were commissioned directly from God, and of course this is true of the apostle Paul.
"Then secondly," Jerome says, "there are those who get their commissions from God and through man, as for instance a man feels distinctly called of God to preach, and he is examined by his brethren and they are satisfied that he is called to preach, and so commend him to the work, perhaps by the laying on of hands. And so he is a servant of God, a minister of God, from God and through man.
Then in the third class there are those who have their commissions from man, but not from God. These are the men who have chosen the ministry as a profession; perhaps have never been born again, but having chosen the ministry as a profession they apply to the bishop, or presbytery, or church, to ordain them."
And then Jerome says, "There is a fourth class. There are men who pose as Christ's ministers, and have received their authority neither from God nor from man, but they are simply free-lancers. You have to take their word for it that they are definitely appointed because nobody has been able to recognize any evidence of it."
Spurgeon said, "Ordination can do nothing for a man who has not received his call from God. It is simply a matter of laying empty hands on an empty head. That man goes out heralded as a minister, but he is not God's minister."
After Paul left Galacia some men came down from Judea claiming to be sent out by James and the apostolic band at Jerusalem. They told the Galatians that unless they kept the law of Moses and were circumcised, and kept the different holy days of the Jewish economy, they couldn’t be saved.
When Paul heard this, he planned to make a visit to correct those errors. There’s something about error that, once it gets hold of the minds of people, it assumes an importance in their minds greater than the truth.
There are times when one may have been going on with the truth of God when suddenly he gets hold of something erroneous, and he pushes that thing to the very limit.
We have seen this demonstrated, in fact, I know a man who, for over 50 years has written letters to local believers and even pays to have articles published in the local news papers expounding what he perceives to be the truth of a certain matter in the scriptures. His legalistic interpretation of a single subject has caused him a lot of frustration because he can’t find others who agree with his interpretation of the scripture and it continues to plague him after all these years.
These men who came into Galatia were trying to turn the Galatians away from the truth of the gospel as set forth by the apostle Paul.
They were substituting law for grace, and were turning the hearts and minds of the believers away from their liberty in Christ, and bringing them into the bondage of the legal rites and ceremonies of the Law of Moses.
In their attempt to do this, their attack centered on Paul’s apostleship and his integrity. They were hoping they could also break down the believer’s reliance on the gospel of the grace of God by undermining their faith in the man who had led them to Christ.
This really upset Paul. With him, doctrine wasn’t simply a matter of views nor a question of maintaining his own position on these matters. He realized that men who were sanctified by the truth of God could also be led away by error, so it was a matter of extreme importance to him that his converts hold fast to the truth in the ways of Christ.
When the news of their defection came, he didn’t do what he generally did. We have no other instance in the New Testament, so far as I know, of Paul writing a letter with his own hand. Ordinarily he dictated his letters to a secretary but he wrote this entire letter himself.
He apparently had something the matter with his eyes and couldn’t see very well when he wrote this letter. It may have come from his experience on the Damascus Road or perhaps from the stoning at Lystra. He says at the close of it, "You see with what large characters I have written you with mine own hand."
Regardless of where Paul preached, he had one message: "Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, crucified, buried, risen, coming again!" These false teachers preached that the way of salvation is partly by faith in the grace of God, and partly by works and obedience to the Law of Moses. They also taught that the way a saved person is kept saved and finally perfected in the Lord and glorified, is by means of his own good works, good living, and obedience to the Law of Moses. They preached that we are saved by grace, but we can only keep our salvation by keeping the Law of Moses. It is a double error.
Paul wanted this made very plain. He was an apostle, "not of men, neither by man." I think he had special reasons for writing this. His detractors told the Galatians he had no apostlestic authority or any commission from Peter or John so they asked where he got his authority? He gloried in the fact that he didn’t get anything from man and that he received it directly from heaven. He was not an apostle of men nor by man. No man could take credit for appointing Paul to be the apostle to the Gentiles.
Paul was more upset with the Galatians for being mislead by the Judaizers than he was by the Judaizers. He called them “foolish Galatians!” He said that “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ.” He could hardly believe that anyone who had trusted Christ by faith alone for their salvation would even listen to another so called gospel that was not the true Gospel. He said, “though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”
There are good angels and bad angels, remember, Satan was once an angel. But regardless who preached another gospel, it could not be THE Gospel. Whether it be Paul or anyone else, “Let him be accursed!”
“If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” Obviously, in Lystra, Paul was not a crowd pleaser! He was not out to please men nor himself. His only object and his only theme was pleasing God by preaching salvation by God’s grace alone.
He used the Old Testament theme of the Abrahamic Covenant to prove God’s grace to man and the Mosaic Law to show that salvation could not be obtained by works, that is, by keeping the Law. The Law served only to show man how unrighteous he is. The righteousness of God that can only come through faith in Christ.
Paul’s message to the Galatians can be contained in one sentence from
Galatians 3:11. “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.”