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The Book of Galatians

The Design of the Epistle


From the Albert Barnes Bible Commentary:

THE DESIGN OF THE EPISTLE

(It is easy to discern from the epistle itself that the following
circumstances existed in the churches of Galatia, and that it was
written with reference to them.

(1) 

That they had been at first devotedly attached to the apostle
Paul, and had received his commands and instructions with
implicit confidence when he was among them, chap.4:14,15; Comp.
chap.1:6.

(2) 

That they had been perverted from the doctrine which he taught
them soon after he had left them, chap.1:6.

(3) 

That this had been done by persons who were of Jewish origin and
who insisted on the observance of the Jewish religion.
(the whole Old Covenant - Keith Hunt).

(4) 

That they claimed to have come directly from Jerusalem, and to
have derived their views of religion and their authority from the
apostles there.

(5) 

That they taught that the apostle Paul was inferior to the
apostles there; that he had been called more recently into the
apostolic office; that the apostles at Jerusalem must be regarded
as the source of authority in the Christian church; and that,
therefore, the teaching of Paul should yield to that which was
derived directly from Jerusalem.

(6) 

That the law of Moses were binding, and were necessary in order
to be justification. That the rite of circumcision especially was
of binding obligation; and it is  It is probable (chap.6:12)
that they had prevailed on many of the Galatians to be
circumcised ......

(7) 

It would seem, also, that they urged that Paul himself had
changed his views since he had been among the Galatians, and now
maintained the necessity of circumcision, chap.5:11. Perhaps they
alleged this, from the undoubted fact, that Paul, when at
Jerusalem, (Acts 21:26) had complied with some of the customs of
the Jewish ritual.

(8) 

That they urged that all the promises of God were made to
Abraham, and that whoever would partake of those promises, must
be circumcised as Abraham was. This Paul in answers, 
chap.3:7; 4:7.

(9) 

That in consequence of the promulgation of these views, great
dissensions had arisen in the church, and strifes of an unhappy
nature existed, greatly contrary to the spirit which should be
manifested by those who bore the Christian name.

From this description of the state of things in the churches of
Galatia, the design of the epistle is apparent, and the scope of
the argument will be easily seen.
of Galatia. Of this state of things the apostle had been
undoubtedly apprized, but whether by letters, or by messengers
from the churches there, is not declared. It is not improbable,
that some of his friends in the churches there had informed him
of it, and he immediately set about a remedy to the evils
existing there.

1.

The first object, therefore, was to show that he had received his
commission as an apostle, directly from God. He had not received
it at all from man; he had not even been instructed by the other
apostles; he had not acknowledged their superiority; he had not
even consulted them. He did not acknowledge, therefore, that the
apostles at Jerusalem possessed any superior rank or authority.
His commission though he had not seen the Lord Jesus before he
was crucified, he had, nevertheless, derived immediately from
him. The doctrine, therefore, which he had taught them, that the
Mosaic laws (observing all the Old Covenant as before Jesus came 
- Keith Hunt) were not binding and that there was no necessity of
being circumcised, was a doctrine which had been derived directly
from God. 

In proof of this, he goes into an extended statement, (chap.1) of
the manner in which he had been called, and of the fact, that he
had not consulted with the apostles at Jerusalem, or confessed
his inferiority to them; of the fact that when they had become
acquainted with the manner in which he preached, they approved
his course, (chap.1:24; 2:1-10;) and of the fact that on one
occasion, he had actually been constrained to differ from Peter,
the oldest of the apostles, on a point in which he was manifestly
wrong, and on one of the very points then under consideration.   

2.

The second great object, therefore, was to show the nature and
design of the law of Moses (the entire Old Covenant with all its
laws - Keith Hunt) and to prove 
that the peculiar rites of the Mosaic ritual, and especially
the rite of circumcision, were not necessary to justification
and salvation: and that they who observed that rite, did in
fact renounce the Scripture method of justification; make the
sacrifice of Christ of no value, and makes slaves of themselves.
This leads him into a consideration of the true nature of the 
doctrine of justification, and of the way of salvation by a
Redeemer.
       
This point he shows in the following way :-

(1)

By showing that those who lived before Christ, and especially
Abraham, were in fact justified, not by obedience ritual law of
Moses, but by faith in the promise of God, chap.3:1-18.

(2)  

By showing that the design of the Mosaic ritual (and indeed the
Old Covenant as a whole - Keith Hunt) was only temporary, and
that it was intended to lead to Christ, chap.3:19-29; 4:1-8 (and
to a New Covenant which does not contain many rites and even many
laws of the Old Covenant. See my studies on "Living by Every Word
of God - How?" - Keith Hunt).

(3) 

In view of this, he reproves the Galatians for having so readily
fallen into the observance of these Customs chap.4:9-21.

(4) 

This view of the design of the Mosaic law (the design of the
whole Old Covenant with all its laws and rites - Keith Hunt) and
of its tendency, he illustrates by an allegory drawn from the
case of Hagar, chap.4:21-31.

This whole discourse is succeeded by an affectionate exhortation
to the Galatians, to avoid the evils which had been engendered;
reproving them for the strife existing in consequence of the
attempt to introduce the Mosaic rites (those who were teaching
them to be under the whole Old Covenant with every law it
contained, and especially physical circumcision, as a way to
justification and salvation, without and apart from the sacrifice
of Jesus Christ - Keith Hunt) and earnestly entreating them to
stand firm in the liberty which Christ had vouchsafed to them
from the servitude of the Mosaic institutions, chapters 5 and 6
(the false servitude of trying to gain and maintain salvation by
obedience to ALL the Old Covenant laws, rituals, rites,
ceremonies, a justification by works and not by faith - Keith
Hunt).
 
  
The design of the whole epistle therefore is to state and defend
the doctrine of justification, and to show that it did not depend
on the observance of laws of Moses (all laws contained in the Old
Covenant - Keith Hunt).
In this general purpose, therefore, it accords with the design of
the epistle to the Romans.....

The argument, if I may so express myself is MORE **JEWISH**  

It is more in the Jewish manner; is designed to meet a Jew in his
own way, and is, therefore, somewhat more difficult for all to
follow.   

Still it contains great and vital statements on the doctrines of
salvation and, as such, demands the profound and careful
attention of all who desire to be saved, and who would know the
way of acceptance with God.
                                     
End of quotes from Albert Barnes

                              ..............


A few years ago there was a religious conference of "Christian"
and "Jewish" Ministers and Rabbis. It was large enough to be
mentioned on the Canadian evening TV National News. It was stated
that the Jewish leaders claimed to the Christians present that
they were just as much children of God as the Christians were,
even though not accepting Christ as their savior and as the
Messiah. 
And this is the fact of Jewish orthodox teaching and belief. They
believe that they have salvation and will inherit eternal life by
being obedient to the Old Covenant, and have no need of having
Jesus Christ as a part of being justified and saved, or having
what Christians call the New Testament writings. 
The Canadian TV report did not state how the "Christian" leaders
answered.

This was the situation in Galatia, certain ones had come among
them after Paul preached Jesus as the Son of God and as the
sacrifice for justification. Paul taught that justification was
by having faith in the sacrifice of Christ, a justification and
being saved by grace through faith in Jesus' death and shed blood
for human sins. Certain ones were now telling the Galatians that
Paul was wrong and justification and salvation did not need
Christ, but it was by observing all the Old Covenant laws and
rites, and by being physically circumcised. Paul answers this
teaching and argument in the letter he wrote to the churches of
Galatia.

We must also remember that Paul did take the opportunity in
writing this letter to also address other issues of importance
that were "Christian issues" in general and not "Jewish" in
nature. For a large percentage of his readers in the churches of
Galatia were Gentiles, and they had been led astray back into
many Gentile ways and practices that were far from the ways that
Christ Jesus taught and lived and wanted His disciples to follow.
This we see in part from chapters 4 and 5.

Keith Hunt 

                               ............

September 2003

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