Galatians Overview

Among Biblical scholars, there is debate on when this epistle (letter) was written and to whom. The older tradition has it to the city proper, whereas in the last century it is thought to be written to the people Paul himself worked with in the region of Galatia. If Paul wrote to Galatia proper, it would have been written between the years 54-57, but if written to the people Paul knew from earlier conversions, it would have been written by the year 50. All of this information is always disputable. I do not know anyone personally that was there.

The issue at hand was about the Mosaic Law, but in particular, circumcision (which actually comes from Abraham). This is not to be confused with the Ten Commandments. The Mosaic Law has more to do with the books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. In these books are very tight prescriptions of worship and how to live. Living the Jewish faith is still hard to follow. In fact, it is impossible. Like in Jesus’ time, there is no Ark of the Covenant before which a person can offer a sacrifice the Mosaic Law requires. Still, even then, how much work and attention it requires to fulfill the kosher laws of all the kitchen utensils, the purification rites or the Sabbath requirements to the details. It is a law where you cannot pick up your mat and walk, let alone turn on the light switch. To this day, some Jews who live in a building with elevators have to have someone push the buttons for the floor they want to get to. This deserves a lot of respect for the Jewish people. The Mosaic Law would make them stand out in any society. How much dedication they would have to have in order to follow God and His ways. To this world, it is a total other way of life for the one who is totally other to us.

The law is what preserved them from sin and, therefore, from much suffering in their daily lives. However, following God, by its very nature, may have suffering of its own. Following God is not easy. In the ways of God, one learns to love. God’s ways bring many blessings, and the people who insisted upon the Mosaic Law understood that. They wanted to hold on to these blessings.

There is a story of a little girl who got a present from her dad. She was his little princess, so by showing her that, he bought her a set of plastic pearls. She loved those pearls so much; she would wear them everywhere. She felt so secure remembering her father’s love for her. She grew up with them, cherishing this great gift from her father. But one day her father asked her if he could have them back. She could tell he was nervous about it. She knew how he really loved her, but she had a hard time giving them back. She did not give them back right away. It felt as if she was giving everything away. But one day she finally, with many tears, gave them back to her father. When he received them back, the father was so happy. He told to her wait as he had to get something. He showed her the new set of real pearls for her.

The Old Testament is not to be compared to plastic. The blessings are far more real than what plastic pearls can offer. But this story does express the reality of the grace that faith in Jesus brings us. The Old Testament and the Old Law is a foundation of understanding by which we all benefit from the New Testament and the New Law. The Ten Commandments are still in effect. The law has not been negated; it has been transformed by grace. A more accurate story would have the plastic pearls become real pearls.

Jesus is the fulfillment of the law. The old law was concerned only of the actions a person did. The new law pierces into the soul and is fulfilled in the beatitudes found in Matthew 5. The old law preserves us from willing evil on others. The new law sees to it that we would all will the good for each other. The new law seeks to make us holy. It seeks to make us holy from within.