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Brief Annotations of the Letter of Paul to the Galatians



I.       Galatia in this letter

It was located in the south of the Galatia district of Roman Empire, which covered many cities like Antioch of Pisidi'a (Acts 13:14), Ico'nium (Acts 13:51), Lystra (Acts 14:20),etc. Paul passed those cities during his first trip of evangelism and established churches there. In his second trip, he visited at these churches again (Acts 16:1-5). Timothy, a talented worked found out by Paul in his second trip, is a man of Lystra.

II.    Background of addressing this letter

In Paul's first trip of evangelism, he got chance to preach the gospel and established church at Galatia because of his bodily aliment. And he received a heartily welcome there (Gal 4:13-15). However, after Paul left, some Judaisms intruded the place and destroyed the work done by Paul. They maintained that the Gentile can not be saved except by being circumcised and observing the law of Moses (Gall:6-7; 3:1; 4:10-11, 16-T9; 4:7-12; 6:12-13). That's why Paul wrote this letter to admonish and to save the gospel. Owing to this crisis, Paul can not help defending his apostleship in this letter and make it with the tone of fighting. In interpreting the essence of the gospel, the letter is similar to that of Romans and even clearer. In defending for himself, it is similar to The Second Letter to the Corinthian and even more ardent. Studying this letter helps to understand the gospel and its nature of revolution and fighting. This is the reason why Paul called evangelism as fighting (2Tim 4:7).

III. The date and location of the letter written from is unknown.

It is suggested that the letter was written from Ephesus, in the end of Paul's second trip of evangelism (Acts 18:19). And it was about 54 A.D.

IV.  Paragraphing of the content:

A.     Greeting (1-5)

B.     Rebuke the Galatians of leaving the truth so soon.(1:6-10)

C.     Describe the source of the gospel he preaches.(11-24)

D.     Describe the event of the Conference of Jerusalem. (2:1-10)

E.     Describe the event of rebuking Peter. (2:11-21)

F.      Rebuke the ignorance of the Galatians.(3:l-14)

G.     Elucidate God's promise to Abraham. (3:15-29)

H.    Elucidate the identity of Christian. (4:1-11)

I.       Beseech to restore the close friendship as before. (4:12-20)

J.      Explain the prefiguration of the two women. (4:21-31)

K.    Exhort them not to be enslaved again to the law.(5:1-12)

L.     Exhort them not to use the freedom as opportunity for the flesh. (5:13-15).

M.   Exhort them to be submissive to the Holy Spirit and be led by it. (5:16-26)

N.     Bear one another's spiritual burdens. (6:1-5) O. Bear one another's material burden. (6:6-10)

V.     The last words (6;11-18)

A.     Greetings (1:1-5)


Maintain the authority and independence of his Apostleship. The "men" in "Not from men" is plural in the original, while the man in" nor through man" is singular. His Apostleship was not ordained by the senior apostles nor under their approval, but was ordained directly by Jesus Christ, the Father God.


"All the brethren who are with me" refers to his co-workers (ref:Phil 4:21-22). "The churches of Galatia" suggests that the letter was written to many churches instead of a particular one.

B.     Rebuke the Galatians of leaving the truth so soon. (1:6-10)


"As we have said before" refers to what Paul has warned them during his second trip of evangelism (Acts 16:1-5). Paul, here, instead of words of compliment, rebuked them in the very beginning. And it suggests the nature controversy of this letter.

C.     Describe the source of the gospel he preaches.(1:11-24)


"Not man's gospel" It is because the gospel was not learned from other apostles, nor was created by Paul himself. "Came through a revelation of Jesus Christ" indicates that the gospel he preaches was inspired by the Lord directly.


"Set me apart before I was born" means that he is selected and sanctified by God before his birth (Jer 1:4-5; Lk 1:13-17). "Call me through his grace" refers to God's calling him (Acts 9:1-19).


"To reveal his Son to me." God makes him know that Jesus is the Lord. "In order that I might preach him among the Gentiles (Acts 13:2). The two quotations above indicate that it is God's will to preach to the Gentiles, not Paul's intention. "I did not confer with any flesh and blood." Paul was sure that it is God's will, so he needed not consult with his friends or relative.


"nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me..", which is because Paul needed not consult with the senior apostles, nor asked for their permission. "Arabia" in the verse is a desert area of the east of Palestine, which located in the eastern south of Damascus. And there is no further description of Paul's going to Arabia in the Book of Acts. In the Acts, chapter nine, verse 23, "Many days has passed" is believed to refer to the three years during Paul's leaving Damascus and staying in Arabia. The reason of his leaving to Arabia for three years later might be the need to retreat to think and pray, owing to the great change in his life which was used to persecute church before. Moses has stayed in the wilderness of Mid'ian for forty years and the Baptist John and the Lord have also lived in the wilderness (Lk 3:2; 4:1).


These two verses describe the same thing as that in the Acts, chapter 9, verses 26 to 30. "After three years" may refer to the three years after his returning the Lord or that after his coming back to Damascus. "Remained with him fifteen days" suggested that it was impossible for Paul to learn from him nor consult with him within such a short period of time.


"I was still not known by sight to the churches of Christ in Judaea" explained that Paul had no relation with churches in Judaea except that in Jerusalem.

D.     The event of the Conference of Jerusalem (2:1-10)


"After fourteen years" refers to the fourteen years after the first visit in Jerusalem when the Conference was held, which was recorded also in the Acts, chapter 15, verse 1. And it was not mentioned here that the second visit during the fourteen years. It might because the second visit is for carrying relief fund, not for the special mission.


''I went up by revelation." It seemed that Paul went up because the disciples in Antioch sent him to. However, the main cause that urged he was the revelation he received. "Privately" suggests that the visit is not official action, but just for mutual forgiveness and private communication.


The purpose of Paul's carrying Titus with him is to proclaim in public that the Christian of the Gentiles need not be circumcised. Titus' not being forced to be circumcised proves that the apostles agreed with Paul's opinion. However, Paul has circumcised Timothy because he was a son of Jewish woman. Thus we may know that Paul did not reject to circumcise for the Jews.


"False brethren secretly brought in" refers to some people who came down from Judaea and advocated that the Christian of the Gentiles cannot be saved unless to be circumcised (Acts 15:1,24). They were called false brethren because of the incorrect message they preached.


"Those who were reputed to be something" indicates the senior apostles and the Lord's brother, James. "God shows no partiality." It is partial of one to judge from someone's status and reputation in Church. "Added nothing to me" means that Paul's apostleship and the motivation of preaching have nothing to do with them.


"Gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship.." It represented mutual communication and admission.


"only they would have us remember the poor." It refers to the poor in Judaea, where famine happened frequently (Acts 11:28-29). And it is the thing Paul was used to do and loved to do (Rom 15:25-26; 1 Cor 16:1-3; 2Cor 9:1-3; Acts 24:17). Thus we may know that the unity of the Jewish church and that of the Gentiles was not presented on the administration but on the communication in the Spirit and love.

E.     Describing the event of rebuking Peter (2:11-21)


Antioch was the center of the churches of the Gentiles at that time. Paul visited there probably after the Conference of Jerusalem. And Paul's rebuking Peter suggests that his apostleship and the gospel he preached were not inherited from Peter. Besides, it also indicates that even Peter made mistakes, because he is just human being.


Peter had preached gospel to Cornelius' whole household and ate with them (Acts 10:l-48; 11:1-3). He also had agreed with Paul's opinion (Acts 15:6-11). However, he was afraid of the circumcision party and separated himself from the Gentiles. It shows his weakness.


Since Peter is a man of good reputation, his weakness must affect those who fallowed him. And it is worth noticing for the leaders.


And Paul who was faithful to belief can be a good example of those who defend for the truth. "Compel the Gentiles to live like Jews" means that Peter's separating himself was to force the Gentile Christian to live as Jews did. Jews do not eat the common and unclean food (Acts 10:11-16). Therefore, they regard the Gentiles as common and unclean and do not associate with them, because they ate those food (Acts 10:28). Since there is no quotation mark in the original, we do not know where Paul's rebuke ends. It is generally believed that it ends in verse 14, but some think it is verse 20.


Jews regard the Gentiles who do not worship God as "Gentile sinners" (Eph 2:1-13).


"We ourselves were found to be sinners." It indicates that the Gentile Christians were still regarded as sinners because of not following Jewish custom.


"But If I build up again those things which I tore down, then, I prove myself a transgressor." It means that if Paul insisted on observing the law while he had advocated the non-necessity of observing the law, his inconsistency of remark would prove him to be sinful. Paul said so in order to indicate Peter's mistake.


"I through the law died to the law." Since one has died to the law, he is no longer under the control of the law (Rom 7:1-9).


"I have been crucified with Christ." The old self who was judged to be sinful by the law has been crucified with the law. Consequently, it is no longer the old me who live but Christ who lives in me.


"I do not nullify the grace of God" means not to nullify the fact of the saving grace of Christ's cross. Therefore, one who maintains to be saved by the law nullifies God's grace and treats Christ's death as in vain.

F.      Rebuking the ignorance of the Galatians (3:1-14)


"Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?" The answer is the latter, hearing with faith.


Since one has begun with the Spirit, he has to end with the Spirit. To end with the flesh means to end with the law.


"[They] experience so many things" refers to the persecution Jews have suffered before, which results from the conflict between Christianity and Judaism (Acts 13:44-52; 14:1-7, 9-20).


This verse was quoted from Genesis, chapter 15, verse 6.


"Preach the gospel beforehand to Abraham." In fact, there was no so called gospel in the Old Testament, because the gospel began from Christ. Paul said so because God's promise to Abraham is concerned with the saving grace of Christ, which is the forerunner of the gospel. "In you shall all the nations be blessed." It is quoted from Genesis, chapter 12, verse 3; chapter 18, verse 18; and chapter 22, verse 18.


The quotation in this verse is from Deuteronomy, chapter 27, verse 26 of Septuagint.


"He who through faith is righteous shall live." It is quoted from Habakkuk, chapter 2, verse 4. And it is also adopted in Romans(l:17) and Hebrew (10:38). This verse from the Old Testament, like twilight that reveals the right path of salvation, has shone widely in the New Testament.


The quotation here is from Leviticus, chapter 18, verse 5. What the law emphasizes is deed not faith.


The quotation in this verse is from Deuteronomy, chapter 21, verse 23. The Lord was crucified on the cross to be a scapegoat. In other words, he was cursed for us in order to save us to be free from the curse of the law.


"The blessing of Abraham" was bestowed by God, among which, the most important promise is to receive inheritance. "We may receive the promise of the spirit through faith." The Holy Spirit is not only a guarantee of the promise of inheritance, but also a helper for us to reach the goal. In our religious life, two important things are to receive the Spirit and to be guided by it.


"The promise" is also plural in the original, since the promise was made more than once (Gen 12:1-3; 13:14-17; 15:5; 17:1-8; 22:17-18). The promise generally contains that in Abraham all nations will be blessed; his offspring will be plenty, and he and his offspring shall inherit the land of Casnaan. Since Canaan symbolizes the heaven, the significance of the promise should be the inheritance of the kingdom of God. The term "offspring" has a meaning of "seed" in the original. In the Old Testament of Hebrew Bible, it was used as singular, which connotes it is Abraham's specific offspring, Christ, instead of all his offsprings. Paul probed the truth hidden between lines of the Bible. However, in Christ, there are numerous Christian. Consequently, Abraham's offspring should be referred to those who truly believe in God, and with the promise of the inheritance. And as for those who are called as Abraham's offspring in blood are not the real offspring in spiritual explanation (Rom 2:28-29).


"A covenant previously ratified by God" refers to the promise of God to Abraham. "Four hundred and thirty years afterward” was counted according to the Septuagint, Exodus, chapter 12, verse40. In the other words, it is four hundred and thirty years after God's promise to Abraham, the Israel went out of the Egypt. However, from Genesis chapter 15, verse 13; Acts, chapter 7, verse 6, and Exodus, chapter 12, verse 40 of the Hebrew Bible, it is 430 years that the Israel stayed in the Egypt since Jacob.


"The inheritance" refers to Canaan originally, but in fact, the heaven in significant meaning.

* (3:19)

"It was added because of transgressions." Lyu's Chinese translation is that the law is set in order to show clearly the unlawful act. "Transgression" (parabasis) means "against the law". Before the law has been set, there is only vague conception about sin and evil. And they are embodied by being against the law of God. That is why the Bible says "through the law comes knowledge of sin (Rom 3:20); and "law come in, to increase the trespass (Rom 5:20). The Bible even says, "sin, finding opportunity in the commandment (law), deceived me, and by it killed me" (Rom 7:7-13). In Japanese Bible, this verse is translated to be that it was added in order to make men against the law, which might be too much. The offspring in this verse refers to the Christ. "It was ordained by angels through intermediary." According to Jewish oral tradition, many angels were with Moses when he receives the law on the mountain (Deu 33:2; Acts 7:53; Heb 2:2). The angels here are also plural in the original. And the "intermediary" refers to Moses.


"An intermediary implies more than one; but God is one." It presents the variance between the law and the fulfillment of the promise. The law is a kind of contract between God and men, set through intermediary. Man has the obligation of observing the law, and God is supposed to give rewards. But the promise is a covenant God made to men, which will never change or be nullified as the law do by man's disobedience (Heb 8:13).


"The Scripture consigned all things to sin." Generally, the Scripture refers to the Old Testament Bible, on which, it is recorded that men are sinful (Ps 143:2; Deu 27:26; Rom 3:9-10). However, the Scripture, here, particularly refers to the law, for the Bible itself does not consign men to sin.


"We were confined under the law." Therefore, we should not treat the law as useless. It was our custodian, carrying specific mission with it before the faith came.


Custodian was translated to be a tutor of children in Lyu's Chinese translated Bible. Usually, the tutor of children was a highly educated servant. In its narrow meaning, the law indicates the Scripture, that is, the Judaism. And, in the broad meaning, it refers to every religion, ethics and morality in the world. Consequently, before the truth was made clear, every religion, including Confucianism, Buddhism, and Islam is useful. They make people aware of their sin and lead them to the Christ indirectly.  However, since the truth has come, we need not be under them any more.


"You are all sons of God" God's sons (1 Pet 2:9-10) are not those who had no relation with Christ, who were not Israel, or who had no portion in every promised covenant and had no no God in the world (Eph 2:12,13).


"Greek" represents all the Gentiles. This verse means that we should not distinguish the Gentiles from the Jews, for it is regardless of races, economic status, or sex to be God's sons.

G.     Elucidate the identity of Christian (4:1-11)


"Heir" was translated to offspring by Lyu (Lyu Chen chung) in Chinese translation. "No better than a slave" presents that, under guardians and trustees, we can not freely execute our lawful and economic rights.


"Guardian" was translated to be "steward" in Matthew, chapter 20, verse 8, and Luke, chapter 8, verse 3. Guardians are entrusted by their owner to manage housework, property and children's education. .And the stewards in Luke, chapter 12, verse 42 and first Corinthians chapter 4, verse 2, mainly refers to the one who manages finance.


"Elemental spirits of the universe" refers to learnings in the world, including the law. There are some other translation like elements in the Nature, or worldly superficial religious concept. The term "elemental spirits" originally means materials, elements, heavenly bodies, or elemental education. The law, as well as other religions and moral concept are all elemental spirits of the universe.


"The spirit of his Son" is the Spirit of Christ, that is the Holy Spirit. "Abba" is aramic of father. "Father", here, was written in Greek in the original. In Mark, chapter 14, verse 36 and Romans, chapter 8, verse 15, these two terms were used together to call our heavenly Father, which suggest that God is the heavenly Father of both Jews and Gentiles. Besides, "Abba" conveys the intimacy between Father and sons.


"You are no longer a slave but a son." In the original, The singular form enforces the value of each believer in God's eye. Consequently, it would be quite foolish of us to be slaves of the elemental spirits of the universe again, for if we do so, we gave up the freedom of a son to be a slave.


"Beings that by nature are no gods" refers to devils, idols, various religions, and thought in the world.


"How can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more?" "Again", and "once more" expresses that they had been slaves of elemental spirits in the universe before. Since they have thrown away the slave identity, how can they be enslaved "again" by another elemental spirit which is the law?


"You observe days, and months and seasons, and years." There are various festivals or regulation set by the law. As it is written in the Bible, "Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to festival or a new moon or a sabbath." (Col 2:16)

H.    Beseech to restore the close relation as before (4:12-20)


Paul, then, called them as "brethren" to ease up his rigid tone. "I beseech you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong." Paul said so to hope that they can love him as he loves them, because they have loved him deeply before.


Paul was sick in his first trip of evangelism. In order to cure his disease, he went to live in higher place, Galatia, where was good for his health. And by this occasion he preached the gospel to the Galatian.


"My condition was a trial to you." some think that Paul's disease was something like malaria, which was treated as devil's possession and which was disliked by the people in Galatia in that time. Therefore, it became trial for the Christian in Galatia because they did not despise or scorn Paul because of that.


"You would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me." It presents that they love him, regardless of any sacrifice they may suffer.


"Telling you the truth" was translated to be treating you with sincerity in Lu's Chinese translated Bible.


"They" in this verse refers to those guardians.


You treated me heartily when I was with you. And I hope you still treat me so, even now I am not in Galatia.


"My little Children" is the closer greeting to the Galatian by Paul. "Again in travail" means that Paul bear children by the gospel (1 Cor 4:15; Philem 10) "Untile Christ be formed in you" emphasizes that it is Christ, not Paul, to be formed. This verse shows Paul's love and efforts to the Galatians.


"Change my tone" means to change to be meek and mercy in speech. It might because Paul has rebuked them harshly in his second trip when he saw them being about to leave the truth. However, they did not turn back and even went away farther. And it became worse when Paul was not there. Therefore, Paul intended to visit them and talk to them with meek tone.

I.       Elucidate the prefiguration of the two women (4:21-31).


The first "law" in this verse do not have article while the other has. "The law" refers to the Scripture or Pentateuch, and "law" refers to the general law, including Moses' law and the others.


"A slave" is Hagar (Gen 16:1-16), and " a free woman is Sar'ai. "Free" in the verse is the same word as that in chapter five, verse one in the original.


"Bearing children for slavery" means that the children born by a slave are still slaves. Therefore, the Jews, who under the law are all slaves.


"Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia." In ancient manuscript, there was no word of Hagar. So there are two ways of reading. One reads "the Hagar is Arabic, which means Mount Sinai". It is because the way Arabian call Mount Sinai sounds like "Hagar". Or some said Hagar means "stone" that associates with the rock of Mount Sinai. Another reads "for Sinai is a mountain in Arabia." Sinai was the place God bestowed the law. "She corresponds to the present Jerusalem." And Jerusalem is the center of Judaism, the headquarter of the law. Therefore, the Jews are slaves.


"The Jerusalem above" refers to church or the heaven which is about to reveal in Christ's Second Coming. It is also called " the city of living God", "the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb 12:22), "the new Jerusalem" (Rev 3:12), or " the holy city, new Jerusalem" (Rev 21:2).


It is quoted from the Book of Isaiah, chapter 54, verse 1 of the Septuagint. "Barren one who does not bear" and " the desolate one" refer to Sar'ai. And "that is married" is Hagar, for she had won Abraham's favor.


 "He who was born according to the flesh" refers to Ishmael, while "he who was born according to the Spirit" refers to Isaac. It was not recorded in the Bible that Ishmael persecuted Isaac, but just that Ishmael played with Isaac" (Gen 21:8-10). Paul may adopt the message from some oral tradition.


It was quoted from Genesis, chapter 21, verse 10.


 Being children of church and the heaven, we are free. Therefore, we should not be enslaved to the law, nor to other elemental spirits in the universe.

J.      Exhort them not to be enslaved again to the law.(5:1-12)


"We wait for the hope of righteousness." There are many explanations about it. One is to wait to be justified to righteousness. Lyu translates the verse in Chinese as that through the Spirit, by the faith, we are looking forward to what we hope as righteous. Another explanation is the hope of waiting for righteousness; that is, wait for new heaven and new earth in which righteousness dwells(2Pet 3:13). Associating this verse with the next, we find Faith, Hope and Love. If this association is correct, then, what we hope should be the hope of righteousness. And there's someone who maintains that the term "wait for" is used in the future tense of hope. In this way, they take the second explanation.


"The faith working through love" means to have the deed out of 1ove and the faith with work (Jam 2:17).


 "Leaven" refers to the heresy. "Leavens the whole lump" means to destroy whole church.


"We will take no other view than mine" means that they will not take another view after reading this letter.


 "Nultilate" in this verse refers to castrate.

K.    Exhort them not to use the freedom as opportunity for the fresh.  (5:13-15)


It is quoted from Leviticus (19:18). Please see Matthew (22:39-40) and Romans (13:8-10) for reference.

L.     Exhort them to be submissive to the Holy Spirit and be led by it.(5:13-15)


"You are not under the law" means not to be controlled by the law or be enslaved to it.


"Fornication, impurity, licentiousness" is the first kind of the flesh, while "idolatry, sorcery" the second, "enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit" the third and "envy, drunkenness" the fourth.


"The fruit" is singular, while" the works of the flesh" is pural in the original. The singular of "the fruit" is to emphasize that it is out of the same Spirit, and that it is not single and separated fruits but has relation with each others. It should be noticed that the fruit begins with "love" and ends with "self-control", for love covers all spirit virtues (Rom 13:8-10) and binds every virtue together (Col 3:14), while self-control adjust all virtue to make it balance.


"Against", here, suggests objection and conflict. It indicates that the fruit of the Spirit does not contradict the law, but complete the law.


Lyu translated "envy of one another" as loving vanity.

M.   Bear one another's spiritual burdens. (6:1-5)


"Burden" in the verse refers to the burden of sin. "Bear one another's burdens" means to concern each other and help each other to solve problems.


It means that one should not boast after comparing himself with others, but only boast when he is really worthy.


"Load" means the load of sins. It means that one should take his own load of sin. The load, here, refers to the lighter load, while the "burden" in verse two is too heavy for one to bear.

N.     Bear one another's material burden. (6:6-10)


The source that "share" derived from is the same as that of fellowship in the First Letter to John, Chapter 1, verse 3.


"The household of faith" refers to church, which is the family of faith.

O.    The last words (6:11-18)


Many scholars think that this part is out of Paul's hand when the above is the record of Paul's oral account. However, we still think the whole letter is authentic by Paul, through many reasons.


"Marks" was used here to create an image of the mark on the slave's forehead or arms. The scare on Paul's body, resulting from being persecuted ratified him to be the servant of Christ.


Why Paul did not say “be with you" but “be with your spirit"? It might be because that one should put to death his flesh and passionate desire.