Sacred Scripture Deep Dive: Galatians

John Kubasak

Sacred Scripture Deep Dive: Galatians

The latest in the Deep Dive series! St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians stands at 6 chapters and, like the rest of Paul’s epistles, addresses some of the particular issues of the geographical churches in the Roman province of Galatia.

St. Paul’s epistles are such a gold mine to the Church because he tailored each one to the church’s particular needs. Christians have all sorts of problems in living a life as Our Lord calls us to; the community at Ephesus needed to hear different things than the Galatian communities did; likewise those at Colossae did not deal with the same issues as the church at Corinth. Far from being a fossil for another age, Paul’s letters address flaws and difficulties common to human nature. The Church has individually and collectively read Paul’s epistles for two thousand years without ever exhausting their depth.  



Galatia was a Roman province in the middle of the Anatolian Peninsula—modern-day Turkey. Whereas St. Paul wrote to specific communities in his other letters, in Galatia he wrote to a cluster of communities. The letter likely would have been copied and delivered to the churches in the area. 


You Don’t Need to See My Identification

St. Paul starts the letters to the Ephesians, Colossians, and Thessalonians in a kindly tone. He thanks God for them, expresses his affection, and praises God. To the Galatians, however, Paul uses the greeting as a preamble to his first argument. He says just three words before building his defense: “Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ” (1:1). Given Paul’s tone in the letter, it’s easy to see that the Galatians questioned Paul’s credentials as an apostle.    

We should be grateful to the Galatians on this point. Paul gives a quick sketch of his history as a Christian, and a few of those details are unique to this letter. Paul reminds them that even though he was not one of the original Twelve Apostles, he received a revelation directly from Jesus Christ.  


Justification and the Cross

Another sizeable problem in the early Church was the Jewish/Gentile discussion. The main question: do new gentile converts to Christianity have to become Jews before getting baptized?  Do gentile converts then need to adhere to the Jewish laws? This resulted in the Council of Jerusalem chronicled in Acts 15. 

Paul adamantly makes the case in Galatians that salvation is through Jesus Christ. Period. “If justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose” (2:21). Taking up the Jewish Law after being baptized a Christian is no small matter. Paul tries to impress upon them the obligations and covenant relationship that come along with it.  

Because we have a fair amount of distance between now a then, it may be difficult to see just how big of an issue it was for the early Church. One of the distinguishing features of the Jewish people was their distinctness from the gentile populations around them. That is, they were specifically chosen by God as His own people; this calling made them set apart and even different from other nations. The various laws and worship, even if they were inconvenient, were the embodiment of that vocation. Imagine the early Jewish Christians. On one hand, experiencing the Messiah was the realization of their hopes and dreams. On the other hand, they had to accept into the “new chosen people” the exact Gentile nations that they tried to separate themselves from.  Paul’s reminder of their universal baptism could not have been an easy thing to process: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (3:27-28).  

There was bound to be bumps in the road in the transition between covenants. With his background as a Pharisee, St. Paul was the perfect one for the job.  



St. Paul also addressed the “judaizing” problem through the lens of freedom. Christians are free from practicing the Mosaic law. One of the implications of the new covenant in Jesus Christ was a new kind of freedom. This freedom made us heirs: “because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba!  Father!’ So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir” (4:6-7). This is a perfect example of the superabundance of God’s blessings. He did not stop at erasing the debt of sin on the part of humanity—which, honestly, would have been more than generous. The gift of being an heir to the infinite, divine life Itself is a exceedingly great act of love.  

What a gift you guys, oh man, what a gift.  

Human nature being what it is, we can also read into the letter that some were using their freedom as a free pass to sin. The various Gnostic heresies in the second Century A.D. also featured a variation of this.  Since they had life in the Spirit, the flesh didn’t matter anymore! That attitude opens up a gateway to many deadly sins.  Although it’s tempting (key word there) to see freedom as a license from restraint, there is far more to it. Ven. Fulton Sheen devoted an episode of his show “Life is Worth Living” to the subject of freedom. He highlighted what Paul says to the Galatians: “do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another” (5:13). The correct preposition to use with ‘freedom’ is not from, but for. Christ’s freedom is for heroic charity.    


Jesus is Everything

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (2:20). 

Think of the saints and martyrs throughout the ages of the Church—Paul being counted among them. St. Paul gives us a formula for holiness here in this verse. The saints and martyrs embrace their suffering as Jesus embraced the cross. They know that Jesus loved them first.  He laid down His life for them, and in that their faith is grounded. And they staked their entire lives on Jesus! The result of the “formula” is exactly what Jesus calls of us living in the world: that we live in Him, and He lives in us. Another result are the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which Paul lists: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (5:22-23).  

St. John Henry Newman expressed this beautifully in his Fragrance Prayer: “Shine through me, and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Your presence in my soul.  Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!”


The Stakes are High

St. Paul ends the letter with a bang.  We embrace the Christian life of “faith working through love” (5:6) with the incredible promise of heaven in mind. With concupiscence, however, the Christian life does not come easy. We sin and turn away from Christ in various ways—yes, Christ will always accept back a repentant soul. For those that do not repent, however, Paul issues a stern yet necessary warning: “do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.  For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (6:7-8).  

We cannot outsmart God. If we head into our judgment holding onto our sins and refusing repentance, God will give us exactly what we want: ourselves, instead of Him.  

St. Paul does not leave his readers there. He ends with simple exhortation: “let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (6:9-10). Remember the lesson of freedom: it is an opportunity for excellence! 


Some time this week, sit down and read through St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians. It’s short enough to read in one sitting.