The occasion, purpose, and opponents of Galatians

 The occasion and purpose for the writing of Galatians was for Paul to correct false teaching that had crept in while Paul was away, to defend his legitimacy as an apostle, and to encourage his flock to cling to the loving Gospel of Grace rather than the cold rules of the law. Paul’s opponents were Jews that followed Paul around undermining his ministry and causing factions. Paul called these false teachers, “Judaizers.”[1] They were Jews that “reacted strongly against Paul’s preaching (Acts 13:50; 14:2, 19)”[2] and would enter in after he left an area and teach new converts that they must follow the law as well.

The nature of these opponents’ doctrine was based in “legalism.”[3] Legalism is defined as “the excessive adherence to law or formula, or dependence on moral law rather than on personal religious faith.”[4] The Judiazers put more faith in their rule following than they did in the Grace of Jesus. They were saying that in order for Gentiles Christians to be saved, they had to also obey Mosaic laws and customs and be forced to practice circumcision.[5] Basically, the Judaizers were teaching that salvation was not based on faith in Jesus Christ alone, but also to adherence to Jewish law. In Paul’s view it was law versus the Gospel of Grace.

Paul takes the church all the way back to Genesis as he reminds them “even Abraham was justified by faith (3:6-9).”[6] He reminds them that Abraham was not under the law—in fact, the law did not yet exist—and he was still in right standing with God. He reminds them of the two covenants represented by the Abraham’s sons. One was born to a slave woman, Hagar and one was born to a free woman, Sarah. By submitting to the law, they were regressing to sonship under Hagar and therefore, slavery![7]

They also attacked Paul’s legitimacy as an apostle “in order to undermine his authority to proclaim the Gospel.”[8] Therefore, Paul had no other option but to defend his apostleship and his message. Paul’s response was swift and direct. We can tell that Paul was anxious to set things straight by the fact that he wrote, “without pausing for the customary thanksgiving”[9] so typical in Pauline letters. It’s as if Paul doesn’t have time to waste: He gets right to the business at hand in defending his reputation, proclaiming his message as truth, and protecting his flock.

Although most of the problems in the Galatian church stemmed from legalists, Paul also addressed the problem of some newly converted Christians’ tendency to “press freedom beyond its limit. (5:13-18)”[10] Carson and Moo call it, “Libertinism.”[11] It is human nature to abuse any gift given, and some of these Christians were abusing the new freedoms in Christ. However, if the Judaizers’ solution to this problem was a return to the law, then “it betrayed an inability to grasp how the law properly functioned across the sweep of redemptive history.”[12] In short, if the law was sufficient, then why would God send His Son to die a gruesome death on the Cross?

Note also, in Paul’s response that there is a sense of tenderness as he addresses this congregation. He writes to them as “a father for his own children (4:19)”[13] Another note of tenderness and genuine love is the fact that “Paul took the pen of his scribe to flesh out the ending in his own handwriting (6:11).”[14] Paul writes in large letters to show that it was actually his writing and not some forgery (a problem that long plagued the early church).

[1] Robert Wayne Stacy, TheDocinabox, “North-South Galatian Theories,” accessed February 2, 2015, https://

[2] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament Its Background and Message. 2nd ed. (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2003), 364.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Paul J. Achtemeier, The Harpercollins Bible Dictionary (San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 1996), 96.

[5] Lea and Black, 364.

[6] Ibid., 457.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 366.

[9] D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 456.

[10] Lea and Black, 374.

[11] Carson and Moo, 467.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Lea and Black, 373.

[14] Ibid., 375.


Achtemeier, Paul J. The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 1996.

Carson, D A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2005.

Lea, Thomas D., and David Alan Black. The New Testament, Its Background and Message. 2nd ed. Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2003.

Stacy, Robert Wayne. 2012. “North-South Galatian Theories,” TheDocinabox, January 12, 2013. Accessed February 3, 2015,


Submitted to Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of the course NBST 520 New Testament Orientation II

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