Epistle to the Galatians

Pekka Jauhiainen
Reija Becks

A well-known persecutor encounters Christ

Paul was a well-known persecutor who became an apostle — an apostle who proclaimed the gospel of Christ's work on the cross. As a persecutor, he considered himself advanced in Judaism. After converting to Christianity, Paul uses the differences between this progress in his past and his current life to teach important things about the gospel.

Paul's progress as a Jew can also be compared to his opponents in Galatia. These opponents taught the observance of the Mosaic Law, like any proper Jew must do. However, they did not demand compliance with the entire system, but only parts of it. In his letter, Paul, as someone who had progressed in Judaism, addresses this weakness of the opponents in order to thwart them.

The fact that Paul used to be a persecutor is repeated in many of his letters. It must have been very traumatic for him because he mentions it often in his letters. In the Acts of the Apostles, it is mentioned that Paul collapsed and lost his sight after meeting Jesus Christ (Acts 9:1–8).

Tensions present in the Epistle to the Galatians:

  1. Paul the persecutor, who thought he was the best of the best (Gal. 1:13–14, 23–24).

  2. Paul who is living in Christ and who had lost the foundation of his earlier life when he encountered Christ. Paul had received help and a new foundation for his life from Christ (Gal. 2:19–20).

  3. Paul's opponents do not follow the Mosaic Law nearly as well as Paul has done. On the other hand, Paul's opponents had wrong motives in bringing their doctrine to the province of Galatia (Gal. 6:12–13).

Through these tensions and many other examples, Paul wants us to trust in the work of Christ and not in our own walk by obeying the law.

Throughout the letter, Paul is having a dialogue with the Galatians so that they would not accept the doctrine that the opponents of Paul's doctrine have brought to Galatia. These opponents do not manage to live according to the law of Moses nearly as well as Paul had done in his life. At the very end, Paul summarizes that not even the supporters of the law obey the law (Gal. 6:13).

The Jews had the best chance of succeeding in living in accordance with the Mosaic Law. The first two chapters feature various Jews who all failed to obey God's will. Paul summarizes this failure in these words:

“We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (Gal. 2:15–16)

In the opening chapters, Paul's failure to obey God's will is the most important example of the failure of the "best of the best" (Gal. 1:13–14; Phil. 3:4–6). Another major failure mentioned in the letter is Peter's actions (Gal. 2:11–14). They both serve as examples of the fact that even the Jews must turn to Jesus through faith.

In his other letters, Paul has various passages in which he uses the Jews and other groups of people as an example of how they do not live in accordance with God's will, even if they are in the best position to do it.