New Testament Backgrounds: Galatians through Colossians

Edward J. Brandt


Written to:

The epistle to the Galatians is a circular letter written to church units established in numerous cities throughout the Roman province of Galatia, as well as in the geographical area of the same name.


The apostle Paul.

Where written:

It is generally accepted that the epistle was written from Corinth, in Greece. (Acts 20:2—3.)

When written:

During the fall of A.D. 57. (Acts 20:2—3.)

Purpose of the letter:

The apostle wrote to members of this region because unauthorized teachers were declaring apostate and false principles. (Gal. 1:6—9; 2:4; 5:10.) Many Jewish converts were found in these churches, along with the gentile members. Some of them, known as "Judaizers" because of their continued zeal for the teachings of the lesser law, were declaring that all gentile converts were required to observe the Mosaic law. (See Acts 15:5.) This matter had already been settled by revelation in a council of church authorities (Acts 15:6—21), and an official letter had been sent to the church units for instruction (Acts 15:22—31; 16:4). Paul's epistle was to further instruct and strengthen the members against this continuing problem.

Major Themes:

Paul writes within the context of the apostate problem, and the dominant themes might be categorized as follows:

1. The relationship of the law of Moses and the gospel of Jesus Christ—The bulk of the epistle deals with this topic. (See Gal. 1—4.) Paul emphasizes that justification comes not "by the works of the law [of Moses]" but through the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2:16; see also 2 Ne. 2:5; 25:23—25.) To illustrate the weakness of the argument of the Judaizers, he reminds them that Abraham, the father of the faithful, received these promises before the law of Moses was even given to Israel. (Gal. 3:16—19.) "The law [of Moses] was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith." (3:24.)

2. Contrast between the works of flesh and fruits of the Spirit—The apostle warns the church of the results of following lusts of the flesh: "They which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." (See 5:16—21.) The fruits of living in the true spirit of the gospel, i.e., "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" (5:22—23), lift one above the effects of the law of Moses.

3. The Laws of the Harvest—The "law of the harvest" is a characterization of a part of the doctrine of restoration. (See Al. 41:2—15.) Galatians itself is a clear declaration of these important truths: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap…(Gal. 6:7)

Difficult Passages (selected):

"When Peter was come I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed." (Gal. 2:11.) Of this passage, Elder Bruce R. McConkie has written:

"Peter and Paul—both of whom were apostles, both of whom received revelations, saw angels, and were approved of the Lord, and both of whom shall inherit the fulness of the Father's kingdom—these same righteous and mighty preachers disagreed on a basic matter of church policy. Peter was the President of the Church; Paul, an apostle and Peter's junior in the church hierarchy, was subject to the direction of the chief apostle. But Paul was right and Peter was wrong…

"The heads of the Church, in council assembled, with the Holy Ghost guiding their minds and directing their decisions, had determined that the Gentiles who received the gospel should not be subject to the law of Moses. (Acts 15:1—35.) […But] Peter sided with them [the "Judaizers"]; Paul publicly withstood the chief apostle and won the debate, as could not otherwise have been the case. Without question, if we had the full account, we would find Peter reversing himself and doing all in his power to get the Jewish saints to believe that the law of Moses was fulfilled in Christ and no longer applied to anyone either Jew or Gentile." (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Bookcraft, 1970, 2:463—64.)