Article by: Sarah Koontz
Paul’s epistle to the Galatians is highly esteemed within the church and often regarded as one of Paul’s most important letters.
It has been given such titles as the Magna Carta of spiritual liberty, the Christian Declaration of Independence, and the battle cry of the Reformation.
Galatians teaches believers about the gospel of grace and equips them to actively combat distortions of God’s truth.
This article includes critical historical and contextual information to help readers understand the occasion and purpose of this letter.
It also contains a detailed outline and synopsis of the main themes and overarching message of the book.
The blog concludes with an analysis of the contribution the book of Galatians makes to the canon of Scripture.
Our team has also created a 22-page printable PDF overview of the book of Galatians for your reference and further study. Enjoy!Galatians teaches believers about the gospel of grace and equips them to actively combat distortions of God’s truth.
Context & Occasion of the Epistle
Author of Galatians
The apostle Paul names himself the author of Galatians twice in the book (1:1; 5:2).
The early church fathers, including Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, viewed this book as canonical and written by Paul.
Most New Testament scholars view Galatians as an exemplary representation of Paul’s writing style and theology.
The historical events detailed in the book, including Paul’s Jewish heritage, persecution of the church, conversion, and travel itinerary, are in harmony with the accounts in Acts and other Epistles.
This letter is addressed “to the churches in Galatia” (1:2).
Galatia was a rural province in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) that was under Roman rule during Paul’s life.
We know that Paul visited the region of Galatia multiple times during his missionary journeys (Acts 16:6; 18:23).
Galatians is the only Epistle to be written to a group of churches, rather than an individual church or specific person.The purpose of this Epistle was to deter early Christians from returning to the Mosaic Law by reminding them that they received the Spirit by faith, not by works of the flesh.
Date and Location
The date of the letter and geographical location of this group of churches is debated by New Testament scholars.
The Southern Galatian theory proposes that the letter was sent to the churches in Pisidian, Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe that Paul established during his first missionary journey (Acts 13-14).
The Northern Galatian theory holds that Paul had a church-planting ministry in the north during his second missionary journey recorded in Acts 16:6-8 and 18:23, and asserts that Galatians was written for those churches.
There is also controversy regarding the placement of this letter in the chronology of Paul’s life.
Scholars who identify the recipients of the letter as believers in the southern cities of Galatia date the letter earlier than those who ascribe to the Northern Galatian theory.
The date range for all theories is between A.D. 47 and A.D. 57. Marcion of Sinope (c. 85 – c. 160), an important figure in early Church history, placed Galatians as the first of Paul’s epistles.
Considering we have no biblical record of Paul planting churches in northern Galatia, it is probable that this letter was written between A.D. 49 and A.D. 50 to the Galatian churches Paul planted on his first missionary journey.
The book of Galatians is Paul’s exposé on God’s gift of grace beginning with a defense of Paul’s apostolic authority followed by a clarification of the gospel grace and an explanation of the result of grace in the believer’s life.
In Galatians, Paul teaches us the doctrine of justification by faith and defends Christian liberty against all forms of legalism.
After thoroughly defending his apostolic authority, Paul condemns false teachings about circumcision and details the freedom we have as recipients of God’s grace.
Throughout the book, Paul highlights the importance of unity within the church and warns against Judaizers.In Galatians, Paul teaches us the doctrine of justification by faith and defends Christian liberty against all forms of legalism.
Theological Themes in Galatians
False teaching was creeping into the churches of Galatia (1:6), and Paul wrote this personal letter to remind his spiritual children about the freedom they have in Christ.
Judaizers were causing confusion and discord within the church (1:7), and Paul warns the Galatians not to “set aside the grace of God” (2:21) or “submit again to a yoke of slavery” (5:1).
He fears they had been “bewitched” (3:1) by a works-oriented, legalistic approach to Christianity and longs for them to experience liberty in Christ.
Because the false teachers were attempting to discredit Paul, he aggressively defends his apostolic authority (1-2), the truth of the gospel message he proclaims (3-4), and the importance of Spirit-filled living (5-6).
The purpose of this Epistle was to deter early Christians from returning to the Mosaic Law by reminding them that they received the Spirit by faith, not by works of the flesh (3:2-3).
Paul’s letter to the Galatians is an emotional one—written in a “rebuke-request” form common in other Hellenistic letters.
There are many similarities between the structure of Paul’s argument and the guidelines established in classic rhetorical handbooks.
Paul’s defense and persuasion techniques are comparable to tactics that would be utilized in the court of law.
The overarching theme of the book is the gospel of grace.
The Greek term for grace is χάρις (charis), meaning, “gracious or merciful behavior of a more powerful person toward another.”
Paul defines salvation as a gracious act of God toward man; it is a gift of faith that cannot be earned by good works (Eph 2:8-9).
Christ’s resurrection defeated death and made external life a reality for all who believe in His name (1 Cor 15:17).
In his letter to Timothy, Paul communicates God’s plan to save humankind, “not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Tim 1:9-10).Paul defines salvation as a gracious act of God toward man; it is a gift of faith that cannot be earned by good works.
Paul’s legalistic approach to religion (Acts 22:3) was reformed by the gospel of grace (1 Cor 15:10), and he felt called to “testify to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).
Paul had personally experienced the transformative power of God’s grace and the resulting freedom (1 Cor 10:23) and peace (Phil 4:6-8).
His desire for all Christians to experience liberty and unity in Christ is expressed throughout his epistles (1 Cor 1:4; 2 Cor 1:12; Gal 1:15-16; Eph 2:8; 1 Thess 1:1; 1 Tim 1:14; Tit 3:7).
In the book of Galatians, different terms are used to contrast grace and good works, including faith/flesh, spirit/law, and freedom/slavery.
Utilizing these various terms and expressions, Paul communicates the concept of grace in every chapter of Galatians (1:3-4; 2:15-16; 3:2-3; 4:4-5, 31; 5:1; 6:15).
An excellent summary of the theme of the book is found in Galatians 2:21, where Paul wrote, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.”
Structure, Outline, and Presentation
As part of my recent Dallas Seminary class, I was asked to write an argument of Galatians.
A Bible book argument is a developed outline with a detailed explanation of “what the writer said and why he said it.”
What makes an argument different from a synopsis is that it doesn’t just summarize the content, it also explains how the contents of the book relate to its purpose.
A book argument is a valuable study tool because it helps you trace the development of the author’s message throughout the book.
As a bonus resource, I’ve created a 22 page PDF that includes a detailed outline and overview of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia.
I pray that this printable resource helps you dig deeper into this fantastic epistle and apply its beautiful truth to your life.
Canonical Contribution and Summary
The book of Galatians is a passionate defense of the gospel of grace and a call for Christians to walk in the liberty of Christ.
“The letter has had a profound impact on Christian thought and action throughout the history of the church.”
It is among Paul’s first letters to churches he planted on his missionary journeys, and it plays an important role in our canon of Scripture.
Had Paul not penned this letter detailing the difference between Christian freedom and Judaism, it is possible that Christianity would have just been another Jewish sect, and the western world would never have heard the gospel of grace.Our team has also created a 22-page printable PDF overview of the book of Galatians for your reference and further study.
This letter is consistent with Paul’s other epistles and addresses one of the central doctrines of our Christian faith—the Source of our salvation.
As Christ-followers, we are saved by grace through faith. Our salvation is not based on our good works but rather on the good work that God has done on our behalf.
Paul’s letter to Galatia helps believers understand the concept of grace and the practical outworking of grace in our lives.
Thank you for taking the time to dig beneath the surface of the book of Galatians with me today. I hope that this article & free printable edify and encourage you to embrace God’s grace in your everyday life.
-  Robert G. Gromacki, New Testament Survey (Baker Books, 2008), 227.
-  Paul’s authorship of Galatians is generally accepted by all Bible scholars, minus a few radical critics. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Inter-Varsity Press, 2020), 326.
-  Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Used by Permission HCSB ©1999,2000,2002,2003,2009 Holman Bible Publishers.
-  John A. Egger, “Galatia,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Lexham Press, 2016).
-  Gromacki, New Testament Survey, 235.
-  Hawthorne, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 328.
-  William Hendriksen, Exposition of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon (Baker Publishing Group, 1996), 14.
-  It is important to note that knowing the exact date or specific region the letter was sent to does not impact the interpretation or value of the contents of this Epistle.
-  Gromacki, New Testament Survey, 227.
-  Hawthorne, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 329.
-  A. Boyd Luter, “Grace,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary ( Lexham Press, 2016).
-  Roy B. Zuck, A Biblical Theology of the New Testament (Moody Publishers, 1994), 351.
-  Warren W. Wiersbe, Bible Exposition Commentary (David C Cook, 2004), 683.
-  MacArthur, Galatians MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 21.
-  Walvoord and Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 592.
-  Walvoord and Zuck, 593.
-  Warren W. Wiersbe, Bible Exposition Commentary, 692.
-  Gromacki, New Testament Survey, 236.
-  Warren W. Wiersbe, Bible Exposition Commentary, 699.
-  Walvoord and Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 598.
-  MacArthur, Galatians MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 86.
-  Warren W. Wiersbe, Bible Exposition Commentary, 707.
-  Gromacki, New Testament Survey, 238.
-  MacArthur, Galatians MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 125.
-  MacArthur, 127.
-  Gromacki, New Testament Survey, 239.
-  Gromacki, 239.
-  Walvoord and Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 611.
-  Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Inter-Varsity Press, 2020), pg 323.
-  John F. MacArthur, Galatians MacArthur New Testament Commentary, ix.
Barry, John D., David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder, eds. The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Lexham Press, 2016.
Gromacki, Robert G. New Testament Survey. Baker Books, 2008.
Hawthorne, Gerald F., Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Inter-Varsity Press, 2020.
Hendriksen, William. Exposition of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Baker Publishing Group, 1996.
MacArthur, John F. Galatians MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Moody Publishers, 1987.
Walvoord, John F., and Roy B. Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary. David C Cook, 2002.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. David C Cook, 2004.
Zuck, Roy B. A Biblical Theology of the New Testament. Moody Publishers, 1994.