A Look at the Letter
Galatians falls into three districted sections and they are; history, theology, and ethics. Paul gives us a model on how to deal with these type of conditions that many churches face. That is to review the history and set the record of history straight. Until history is understood and the record set straight based upon that history, there can be no hope of securing the future. This is the purpose of the first two chapters of Galatians.
Once we have established a firm historical foundation of our present condition, we can then deal with the theological matters associated with the problems at hand. This is what Paul does in both chapters three and four of this epistle.
In chapters five and six, Paul continues on by stating that right thinking always brings us to right living. In short, Paul theology of freedom directly leads to the result of the matter which is the ethics of obligation. What are we obligated to do, once we know and understand the history and have the correct theology? We are then ethically obligated to tell others of what we have learned. This is how Paul finishes his letter to the Galatians.
When was the letter written? It is obvious that the letter was written before the Jerusalem Council that occurred in Acts chapter 15. We understand this to be the case, because there is no mention of this council in all of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
What was this council at Jerusalem that is recorded in the fifteenth chapter of Acts all about? To get to the heart of the matter at stake, it was the controversy between two separate concepts: righteousness by faith and with its justification, verses legalistic adherence to the law with its own take on justification.
The truth is, this is still at the heart of what many churches of today face.
But wait you say, “I have read Acts chapter 15 and it is dealing with circumcision and whether it is proper to circumcise gentiles,” having nothing to do with what you just mentioned about righteousness by faith and justification.”
In response to the above statement, I would say, you are correct that on the surface this was the issue that had come to head that the council had to deal with. But under the surface the issue had less to do with circumcision and was really about legalistic adherence to the law of Moses, or the acceptance of righteousness by path and its resulting justification.
In 1912 the ship Titanic on its maiden voyage struck and iceberg and sunk. There was only a small about of ice showing above the surface of the sea. That which lay under the surface could potentially do as must or more damage as what could be seen above the sea. The matter of circumcision was the part of the iceberg that was seen on the surface, but the heart of the matter lay below the surface having to do with righteousness by path and its resulting justification.
Paul understood this to be the case and so fired his cannon shot across the bow of the Christian church to get their attention that a far deeper problem lay under the surface and needed to be addressed. That problem was the issue of legalism verses righteousness by faith.