This is the most misunderstood book of the New Testament, and that is not an exaggeration. Galatia was in what is now Turkey and there were believers there who had a controversy brewing among them, but most people who read the book have no idea what that controversy was.
As we have said before, there were 18 Edicts that were passed about 20 BC by the School of Shammai and these edicts were designed to separate Jew and Gentile and they also said that if a Gentile was ever to have a place in the world to come, he had to become Jewish through circumcision. We have an article on this site that deals with this. This was a major controversy even among believers in Yeshua (Acts 15.1) and the Galatians were being troubled by it.
This book was written around 49 AD and before Acts 21 to non-Jewish believers in Galatia and is a halakic commentary on the Torah. Why is that important? Because Acts 21 shows that the believers in Yeshua were Torah observant. Paul was coming to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices in the Temple (Acts 24.17) because he was coming out of a Nazarite vow (Acts 18.18). Paul also taught the non-Jewish Godfearers that they were to obey the Torah as it applied to them in 1 Cor 7.17-19.
Other believers were being told that Paul was teaching the Jews in the dispersion that they did not have to follow Moses (Torah) and saying that they did not have to circumcise their children (Acts 21.21). He was advised by James, the Nasi of the congregation in Jerusalem, that he could prove this rumor wrong if he paid for the expenses (sacrifices) of four other messianic believers coming out of a Nazarite vow ((Acts 21.23-24). This was to show the people that Paul also followed the Torah and walked orderly and that what was being said about him was untrue.
That’s why it is important to realize that Galatians was written before Acts 21. Paul wasn’t telling the Galatians to neglect the Torah, and then he turned around and observed it himself! Many misinterpret Galatians to say that Paul was telling them that they did not need to follow the Torah, everything was by grace now. It is true that we are saved by grace, but Paul was not teaching people to disregard the Torah. That is what he was accused of in Acts 21 and that is what people say about Paul today, but he showed this to be untrue.
What Paul was objecting to was people saying that the Galatians (or any Gentile believer) had to be circumcised to be saved (according to the oral tradition of the School of Shammai and the 18 Edicts). This was a tradition of man. This book has more to do with sanctification than justification. Righteousness with God was never obtained by works. This book has nothing to do with Abrahamic circumcision, which any Jewish male was to undergo in keeping with the instructions of Moses as a descendant of Abraham. This was according to the covenant that the Lord established with Abraham. This command did not apply to non-Jews.
The circumcision referred to in Galatians is “ritual” circumcision which is a man-made law in order to “convert” Gentiles to Pharisaic Judaism. God never approved of that and it was not a part of the “basar” (gospel, good news). This is seen in Acts 10 with the salvation of Cornelius. He was saved and filled with the Holy Spirit without receiving circumcision and this negated the edict from the Jews that said a Gentile was to be circumcised to be saved. That is what is called “ritual” circumcision and different from Abrahamic circumcision. That is why Paul circumcised Timothy (Abrahamic circumcision because he had a Jewish mother) and he didn’t circumcise Titus (a Gentile believer who did not need the “Abrahamic” circumcision like Timothy did to be obedient to the Torah on that point).
The Galatians were being presented with a perverted version of the Basar (gospel) and this can be traced back to believers from Jerusalem who identified with the School of Shammai in their approach and teachings concerning the status of non-Jews. The tone of the book will be harsh.
Because this simple fact is not understood by many today, this book has been used as the foundational teaching that says that a person is “free from the Law” and that anyone who teaches the Torah to a believer is “Judaizing” that person. This could not be further from the truth and this will be shown as we go through the book.
What we will do is simply read the verse and commentary will be in parenthesis. This will be an easy format to read and to understand this book. We want to understand it in the way it would have been understood in the first century. This book is not about grace versus law, it is about faith versus works righteousness. This will not be an exhaustive study, including every detail that can be ascertained, but it will give you a good idea of what this book is really saying and what you learn can be applied to every book of the New Testament.
Before reading this book, or any book in the New Testament, we recommend that you read, “Torah and New Testament Foundations- Was Paul Torah Observant” and “Torah and New Testament Foundations-The Real Paul” on this website to get a proper understanding about who Paul was and what he taught.