The Letter to The Galatians: ‘The Truth of the Gospel’

Giancarlo Pani SJ

 Giancarlo Pani SJ / Church Life / 9 July 2020

Paid Article

The Letter to the Galatians is an exceptional New Testament document. It was written by Paul at a time of great anguish, because a fervent community that the Apostle had worked hard to establish and to which he remained closely attached, found itself being misled by Judaizers. These had come from the People of Israel and had accepted faith in Christ Jesus, but had not abandoned the observance of the Law, Jewish traditions and circumcision as indispensable conditions of salvation. For them, it is the Law that saves, not Christ. They considered him a marginal agent in the economy of salvation.

For the first time, the Letter to the Galatians addressed this new and very delicate situation, which was a matter of life or death for the nascent Church. The Judaizers forced Paul to reflect on an essential issue: Do we have to become Jews to be Christians? The Apostle gradually came to a sharpened awareness that culminates in Chapter 3 of the Letter. This will be fundamental to the Gospel proclamation: “All of you who were baptized in Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ.”[1]

It is also, in absolute terms, the first reflection on the value of faith for salvation. The Gospels came later and were written following the pioneering work done by the Apostle. Hence the passionate character of the Letter,, its dense and, to a degree, violent exposition . Certainly, from a theological point of view, it is an expansion and an explanation of Paul’s thought, which matured through years of apostolic mission. For this reason the doctrinal treatment is emotional, frantic and nervous. It lacks the detachment associated with  a measured discourse, although such a “fiery” way of approaching the themes guarantees interest, concreteness and an immediate relationship with the reader.

The Letter to the Galatians and the Letter to the Romans

After the foundation of the community of the Galatians some time before, events in the community had stirred the Apostle and caused him to intervene. On the one hand, it was a time of rediscovery and inner reflection, in which he re-lived his vocation; on the other, Paul found himself challenged precisely in his mission as Apostle. This could not but lead to his witness of faith, which united writer and addressees, and which included, in addition to strictly spiritual guidance, the biblical tradition of the Old Testament. Its final conclusion was that Christian life, in its most essential aspects, is freedom in peace, in communion, in harmonious growth.

This article is reserved for paid subscribers. Please subscribe to continue reading this article