Among the areas of Asia Minor evangelized by Paul was the southern part of the Roman province of Galatia. Paul established churches in the Galatian towns of Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe (Acts 13:13-14:23), then returned to his base in Antioch in Syria (Acts 14:26-28). Most likely Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians while in Syrian Antioch at this time.
Purpose of the letter
Paul was disturbed when certain Jews from the church in Jerusalem came to Antioch teaching that Gentile converts had to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses (Acts 15:1,5). They argued so persuasively that even mature Christians such as Peter stopped eating with the Gentile Christians, fearing that they might break the Jewish food laws. Paul saw that such action was contrary to the gospel he preached, and he publicly rebuked Peter (Gal 2:11-13). But worse was to follow; for the Jewish teachers had gone also to Galatia and spread their teaching among the newly planted churches there. When Paul heard this he was angry at the Jewish teachers and shocked that the Galatians had believed them (Gal 1:6; 3:1). He sent off to the Galatians a strongly worded letter, which in time became part of the New Testament. In it Paul pointed out that there was only one gospel, the one he preached, and that the law of Moses has no authority over believers in Jesus Christ. Having been justified by faith in Christ, believers live by the same faith. Though free from the Jewish law they are not lawless, but under the direction of the indwelling Spirit of Christ.
Contents of the letter
In the opening section of his letter, Paul emphasizes that the gospel he preaches is the only gospel. There is no other way to obtain salvation or live the Christian life. After rebuking the Galatians for so easily believing the Jewish teachers (1:1-10), he reminds them that the gospel he preached came direct from God (1:11-24), that it was supported by the apostles in Jerusalem (2:1-10) and that it offers salvation by faith alone (2:11-21). The central portion of the letter shows how law-keeping has no place in Christianity. The Galatians should know this from their own experience of conversion (3:1-5), but the example of Abraham makes the point even clearer. Abraham was saved by believing the promise of God, not by keeping the law of Moses (3:6-14). The law was never intended to be a way of salvation, though in showing people their sin it helped prepare the way for the Saviour (3:15-4:7). Paul is concerned that the Galatians are being led into law-keeping (4:8-20), for this will lead only to bondage (4:21-31). To conclude on a positive note, Paul instructs the Galatians in the enjoyment of the freedom they have in Christ. Law-keeping makes true Christianity impossible (5:1-12), but freedom under the direction of the Spirit produces Christian character (5:13-26). After some reminders of Christian responsibilities to others (6:1-10), Paul concludes by emphasizing again that the cross of Christ, not the law of Moses, is the basis of the gospel (6:11-18).