Introduction to the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians
Why study Galatians?
The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians was written to Christians who were straying from the Lord by embracing false teachings. In correcting this problem, the Apostle Paul illuminated the difference between the burdensome “yoke” of the law of Moses, which led to spiritual bondage, and the gospel of Jesus Christ, which leads to spiritual freedom. Studying this epistle can help the reader better appreciate the Spirit-driven life and the liberty offered by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Though Paul’s reasoning is sophisticated, he addresses basic questions: What is the gospel? How does one receive it? What can happen when one applies it in daily life? What is the relationship between justification and faith?
Who wrote Galatians?
The Epistle to the Galatians opens with the Apostle Paul’s statement that he wrote it (see Galatians 1:1), and his authorship is accepted in Christian tradition and New Testament scholarship. As with other epistles, Paul appears to have been assisted by a scribe in writing Galatians. Near the end of the letter, Paul added his own handwritten postscript, “Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand” (Galatians 6:11; for more information about Paul’s use of scribes, see the commentary for Romans 16:22).
When and where was Galatians written?
Paul visited the Galatian churches on his second and third missionary journeys (see Acts 16:6; 18:23). Paul likely wrote his Epistle to the Galatians while traveling through Macedonia during his third missionary journey, about A.D. 57. The book of Romans was also written during Paul’s third missionary journey, and similarities between the content, organization, and style of Galatians and Romans have led scholars to believe that the two epistles were written during the same time period. There are some commentators, however, who believe that the events recorded in Galatians 2:1–10 happened before the Jerusalem conference (held in A.D. 49; see Acts 15); they propose that Galatians may have been written as early as A.D. 48 or 49.
To whom was Galatians written and why?
Galatia was a region in north-central Asia Minor, whose population had immigrated from western Europe (modern France), where they had been known as Gauls. Paul visited cities in Galatia on his second and third missionary journeys. While some scholars think that Galatians was addressed to Saints in the cities Paul visited on these journeys, other scholars think Paul may have been writing to Saints in the cities he visited on his first missionary journey—cities such as Lystra, Iconium, Derbe, and Antioch (in Pisidia). These cities, with the exception of Iconium, were part of the Roman province of Galatia but were popularly regarded as being part of Pisidia or Lycaonia (see Bible Dictionary, “Galatia”).
Paul wrote to the Saints in Galatia, deeply concerned that they were straying from the Lord by following the teachings of some who sought to “pervert the gospel” (see Galatians 1:6–7). Details in the letter make clear that these people were Jewish Christians—sometimes referred to as Judaizers by New Testament commentators—who were teaching Gentile Christians the false doctrine that they had to be circumcised and observe the ritual requirements of the law of Moses in order to be saved (see Galatians 6:12; see also Acts 15:1; the commentaries for Acts 15:1–5 and for Acts 15:1, 5, 24). Some Galatian Saints had embraced the teachings of these people (see Galatians 4:10).
Paul’s main purposes in writing the Epistle to the Galatians included (1) defending himself against the accusations of the false teachers who opposed him; (2) teaching that all people, whether Jew or Gentile, are saved by the Atonement of Jesus Christ by placing their faith in Jesus Christ, not by performing the works of the law of Moses; (3) clarifying the role of the law of Moses in God’s plan; (4) distinguishing between the old covenant God made through Moses and the new covenant in Christ; and (5) calling upon the Saints to live by the Spirit.
What are some distinctive features of Galatians?
The book of Galatians stands out as Paul’s most impassioned letter, delivering a sharp rebuke to both the Church members who were straying and the false teachers who were leading them astray. To persuade the Galatians to return to the true gospel, Paul related his own conversion story, appealed to the example of Abraham, and cited other support from the Old Testament. Galatians contains Paul’s earliest written presentation of the doctrine of justification—we are not justified by the works of the law of Moses but by faith in Jesus Christ. Paul used the verb justified—which can be translated as “declared righteous”—more than 20 times in this letter. The epistle compares “the works of the flesh” to “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16–25).
Introduction and Timeline for Galatians
Paul reproved the Saints in Galatia for embracing the falsehood that Gentile Saints had to observe the rituals of the law of Moses (see Galatians 1:6–7; 3:1–3; 5:2–4; 6:12; see also Acts 15:1–31). He defended his calling as an Apostle by declaring that he taught the true gospel of Jesus Christ, that he had received revelation from God, and that his ministry to the Gentiles had been approved by the Apostles in Jerusalem (see Galatians 1:1, 11–24; 2:1–9). Followers of Jesus Christ, both Jews and Gentiles, are justified not by the works and rituals of the law of Moses “but by the faith of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16). Paul supported this doctrine by citing the example of Abraham (see Galatians 3:6–18), teaching of the redemption made possible through the death of Jesus Christ (see Galatians 3:13), and explaining that the law of Moses had been given as a “schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ” (Galatians 3:24). Those who have faith in Jesus Christ and are baptized become Abraham’s seed (see Galatians 3:26–4:7). Paul called upon the Saints to live by the Spirit and to stand fast in the liberty of the gospel (see Galatians 4:21–6:18).
Commentary for Galatians
Galatians 1:1–7. “Ye Are So Soon Removed … unto Another Gospel”
Paul typically began his epistles with words of gratitude and praise for the Saints he was addressing, even when they were in need of correction (see 1 Corinthians 1:4–13). His Epistle to the Galatians lacks any expressions of thanksgiving or praise; rather, Paul immediately confronted the Galatian Saints with the charge of following false teachers (see Galatians 1:6–7; 4:9). Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles described the circumstances in Galatia:
“[Paul’s epistles are] written to answer the questions and solve the problems of specific groups of saints. And in the case of the Galatians, the problem is apostasy. These Galatians are Gentile converts. They are now being contaminated by Jewish-Christians who tell them they must also be circumcised and live the law of Moses to be saved. Paul’s purpose is to call them back to Christ and his gospel.
“Galatians is thus written to people who are losing the true faith, who are adopting false doctrines and ordinances, who are being overcome by the world, who are commingling the dead law of Moses with the living word which is in Christ” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 2:455).
President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) quoted Paul’s warnings to the Galatian Saints, found in Galatians 1:6–12, and then declared:
“Today those warnings are just as applicable as they were in that day in which they were given.
“There are some as wolves among us. By that, I mean some who profess membership in this church who are not sparing the flock. And among our own membership, men are arising speaking perverse things. Now perverse means diverting from the right or correct, and being obstinate in the wrong, willfully, in order to draw the weak and unwary members of the Church away after them.
“And as the apostle Paul said, it is likewise a marvel to us today, as it was in that day, that some members are so soon removed from those who taught them the gospel and are removed from the true teachings of the gospel of Christ” (“Admonitions for the Priesthood of God,” Ensign, Jan. 1973, 105).
Galatians 1:8–10. “An Angel from Heaven”
Paul’s teachings recorded in Galatians 1:8–10 are sometimes used erroneously to argue against visions and angels and preaching a restored gospel. The true gospel is preached by authorized Apostles, as Paul was; it is grounded in “the grace of Christ” (Galatians 1:6; compare 2 Nephi 2:8; 10:24); it is grounded in personal testimony; it encompasses all of Paul’s teachings. If an angel comes to divert people away from this gospel (see Alma 30:53), then that angel should be ignored. But scripture shows that several angels came to restore the fulness of the gospel, as is the case with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (see Revelation 14:6).
Galatians 1:11–2:10. Paul’s Conversion
Paul’s account of his conversion emphasized that his calling and his teachings were “not of men” but by “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:1, 11–12) and that he acted under the approval of the presiding Church leaders (see Galatians 2:2, 9). Some of what is recorded in Galatians 1:11–2:10 is found only in Galatians (Paul’s sojourn in Arabia, his return to Damascus, his journey to Jerusalem after three years, and the Apostles he met there). For more details on the events from Paul’s life, see the chart “Chronology of Events in Paul’s Life and Ministry” in the commentary for Acts 9:23–26.
Galatians 2:1–5. Judaizers Desire to Continue Circumcision
Galatians 2:1 records a journey Paul took to Jerusalem to meet with Church leaders, and Titus traveled with him. Titus, who was a Greek, did not have to be circumcised, although some Judaizers wanted all Gentiles to be circumcised in order to continue to obey the rituals of the law of Moses. The Joseph Smith Translation clarifies: “There were some brought in by false brethren unawares, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage” (Joseph Smith Translation, Galatians 2:4 [in Galatians 2:4, footnote a]). These spies who were brought in by false brethren desired to force Christians such as Titus to give up their “liberty” in the gospel and return to the “bondage” of the law of Moses.
Galatians 2:11–16. Paul’s Confrontation with Peter
In order to emphasize to the Gentile converts in Galatia that they did not need to be circumcised, Paul recounted a confrontation with Peter, the chief Apostle. After a meeting in Jerusalem (see Galatians 2:1), Peter visited the Saints in Antioch (in Pisidia), where Paul was staying. While there, Peter began to dine with the Gentile Saints, but he stopped doing so when a group of Jewish Christians arrived from Jerusalem. He feared that the visitors would find his association with the Gentile Saints offensive (see Galatians 2:12). In many cultures of the ancient world, including the Jewish culture, dining with others affirmed a bond of fellowship and loyalty (see Mark 2:15–16; Acts 10:28). To some Jewish Christians, the cultural tradition of maintaining separation from Gentiles was more important than the Christian bond they shared with Gentile Saints. This was unacceptable to Paul. He taught that among the followers of Christ, there was to be “neither Jew nor Greek, … for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Paul felt that Peter’s withdrawal from the Gentile Saints implied that they could not enjoy fellowship with Church members like Peter unless they lived “as do the Jews” (Galatians 2:14).
It is important to remember that we have only Paul’s account of this confrontation and that Paul acknowledged that Peter’s ministry was primarily to the Jews (see Galatians 2:7–8).
“In defense of the chief Apostle, however, one should recall that Peter was the leader of a relatively small church that was composed of two emotionally fragile factions; the situation was delicate. The Jewish Christians, on the one hand, did not appreciate the reluctance of some Gentiles to submit to the regulations of the Mosaic law, especially circumcision. Paul and his followers, on the other hand, were not worried about offending the feelings of the Jewish Christians who still held fast to the traditions of the law of Moses. Peter the prophet, naturally, loved and was concerned about both Jewish and Gentile members of the Church.
“It was a no-win situation for Peter. If he continued eating with the Gentiles, he would offend the visiting group of Jewish Christians. If he departed, he would offend Paul and the Gentile Christians in Antioch. No compromise was possible. Either way, he was going to hurt some feelings. Maybe Peter felt that an offended Paul would still remain true, while an offended group of Jewish Christians would potentially influence many others to dissent or leave the young church” (Frank F. Judd Jr., “The Jerusalem Conference: The First Council of the Christian Church,” Religious Educator, vol. 12, no. 1 , 67; rsc.byu.edu).
Conspicuously absent from Galatians 2 is any reference to the Jerusalem conference held in A.D. 49 (see Acts 15). Paul was a participant in that conference, and he later shared the decision of that conference with those to whom he ministered (see Acts 15:30; 16:4). Since Paul made no mention of the conference or the letters describing the decision to take the gospel to the Gentiles, some experts believe that the experience described in Galatians 2:11–21 occurred prior to the Jerusalem conference.
Galatians 2:15–16. Justified “by the Faith of Jesus Christ”
Paul identified the essential truth that made clear why the Gentile Saints should not be excluded from dining with Jewish Saints. Both groups were justified (pardoned from punishment for sin) by placing their faith in Jesus Christ, not by performing the works of the law of Moses. Peter himself expressed a similar view at the Jerusalem council (see Acts 15:7–11). For more information about justification, see the commentary for Romans 1:16–17, and for insight on the phrase “by the faith of Jesus Christ,” see the commentary for Romans 3:22.
Often when we speak of justification we also speak about sanctification. Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained how these doctrines are related but also separate:
“We may appropriately speak of one who is justified as pardoned, without sin, or guiltless. For example, ‘Whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world’ (3 Ne. 27:16; emphasis added). Yet glorious as the remission of sins is, the Atonement accomplishes even more. That ‘more’ is expressed by Moroni:
“‘And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot’ (Moro. 10:33; emphasis added).
“To be sanctified through the blood of Christ is to become clean, pure, and holy. If justification removes the punishment for past sin, then sanctification removes the stain or effects of sin” (“Justification and Sanctification,” Ensign, June 2001, 20, 22; see also Moses 6:59–60).
Galatians 2:16 has sometimes been misunderstood to mean that salvation results only from our faith in Jesus Christ and that works of righteousness are not necessary for salvation. It is important to understand this verse in context. Here, and in most places in Paul’s writings, the word works does not refer generally to good deeds or efforts to live the gospel—our obedience. Each time the word works appears in Paul’s discussion in Galatians 2–3, it is part of the phrase “works of the law,” meaning the observances of the law of Moses, such as the rite of circumcision, dietary restrictions, or holy days (see the commentary for Romans 3:27–31). So Paul’s meaning is that the works of the law of Moses are not necessary for our salvation.
Nevertheless, it is also true that our “works”—understood as our efforts to live the commandments of the gospel—do not justify us or earn us salvation. We are ultimately saved by the grace of Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 2:8–9; 2 Nephi 25:23). Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles referred to another one of Paul’s statements in order to correct the inaccurate perception that we can be saved by our works alone:
“The Apostle Paul wrote that we should ‘work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling.’ (Phil. 2:12.) Could that familiar expression mean that the sum total of our own righteousness will win us salvation and exaltation? Could some of us believe that our heavenly parentage and our divine destiny allow us to pass through mortality and attain eternal life solely on our own merits?
“On the basis of what I have heard, I believe that some of us, some of the time, say things that can create that impression. We can forget that keeping the commandments, which is necessary, is not sufficient. As Nephi said, we must labor diligently to persuade everyone ‘to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.’ (2 Ne. 25:23.) …
“… After all our obedience and good works, we cannot be saved from the effect of our sins without the grace extended by the atonement of Jesus Christ” (“What Think Ye of Christ?” Ensign, Nov. 1988, 66–67).
Galatians 2:18–20; 3:10–11, 22. “I Am Crucified with Christ: Nevertheless I Live”
Paul’s statement, “If I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor” (Galatians 2:18), refers to the prospect of turning back to his former life, which was based on observing the law of Moses, and leaving his new life based on faith in the Savior. If Paul had done this, he would have made himself a transgressor because it is not possible to do perfectly “all things which are written in the book of the law” (Galatians 3:10). He knew that no man can be justified by the law alone (see Galatians 3:10–11, 22). Though Paul apparently still followed certain practices of the law of Moses (see Acts 16:1–3; 18:18; 21:26), it was no longer the basis for his relationship with God, and its practices were not required for exaltation. His faith in Jesus Christ had transformed his life so completely that he described his old life as dead and declared that he was living a new life in Christ (see Galatians 2:18–20).
Elder Robert L. Backman of the Seventy explained that it is through total surrender to the Savior that we find the new life He has for us:
“What Christ desires from each of us is surrender, complete and total—a voluntary gift of trust, faith, and love. C. S. Lewis captured the spirit of this surrender:
“‘Christ says, “Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. … Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.”’ (Mere Christianity, New York: Collier Books, 1960, p. 167)” (“Jesus the Christ,” Ensign, Nov. 1991, 10).
Galatians 3:7–9, 16–19, 29. “Abraham’s Seed, and Heirs According to the Promise”
To help the Gentile Christians in Galatia understand that they did not need to follow the practices of the law of Moses to inherit God’s blessings, Paul taught that “they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7; see also verses 8–9, 16–19, 29).
The Bible Dictionary teaches that “those of non-Israelite lineage, commonly known as Gentiles, are adopted into the house of Israel and become heirs of the covenant and the seed of Abraham through the ordinances of the gospel (Gal. 3:26–29)” (Bible Dictionary, “Abraham, covenant of”). All of Abraham’s seed are promised exaltation if they are faithful. President James E. Faust (1920–2007) of the First Presidency explained:
“What does it mean to be the seed of Abraham? Scripturally it has a deeper meaning than being his literal descendants. The Lord made a covenant with Abraham, the great patriarch, that all nations would be blessed through him [see Genesis 18:18]. Any man or woman can claim the blessings of Abraham. They become his seed and heirs to the promised blessings by accepting the gospel, being baptized, entering into temple marriage, being faithful in keeping their covenants, and helping to carry the gospel to all the nations of the earth.
Galatians 3:8. Did Saints before Christ Have the Gospel Preached to Them?
The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) taught that the fulness of the gospel was indeed taught to Abraham, as it was to all the righteous Saints who lived before the time of the Savior:
“All that were ever saved, were saved through the power of this great plan of redemption, as much before the coming of Christ as since. … Abraham offered sacrifice, and notwithstanding this, had the Gospel preached to him [see Galatians 3:8]. That the offering of sacrifice was only to point the mind forward to Christ, we infer from these remarkable words of Jesus to the Jews: ‘Your Father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad’ [John 8:56]. … We conclude that whenever the Lord revealed Himself to men in ancient days, and commanded them to offer sacrifice to Him, that it was done that they might look forward in faith to the time of His coming, and rely upon the power of that atonement for a remission of their sins” (in History of the Church, 2:16–17).
Galatians 3:13. Christ Was “Made a Curse for Us”
Some Jews believed that Jesus could not be the Messiah because he had been crucified or, in other words, hung on a tree (see Galatians 3:13; Acts 5:30; 10:39; 1 Peter 2:24). They referred to a passage in Deuteronomy stating that a criminal who was put to death by being hung on a tree was “accursed of God” (Deuteronomy 21:22–23). According to this way of thinking, Jesus had to be regarded as cursed by God. But Paul showed another way of looking at the concept of being “cursed” as applied to the Savior. He explained that Jesus willingly took our sins upon Himself in order to perform the work of redemption, thus becoming “cursed” in our place: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Galatians 3:13; italics added).
Galatians 3:14–16. The Blessings of Abraham Come through Jesus Christ
The blessings of Abraham were first offered to his literal posterity—the house of Israel. In New Testament times and today, the blessings of Abraham are also offered to the Gentiles (see 3 Nephi 20:25–27). Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, all who accept His gospel are entitled to the blessings of Abraham (see Romans 9:6–8; Galatians 3:27–29; 2 Nephi 30:2; D&C 84:33–34). These blessings can be summarized as receiving a land of inheritance (see Genesis 13:14–15; Abraham 2:6), having posterity as numerous as the dust of the earth (see Genesis 13:16; 15:5), receiving the priesthood and the gospel (see Abraham 2:11), and ultimately receiving eternal life (see Abraham 2:11). The fulness of these blessings can be received only in the eternities to come as we receive an eternal inheritance in the celestial kingdom.
Galatians 3:19–25. “Wherefore Then Serveth the Law?”
After teaching that the performances of the law of Moses do not justify us before God, Paul explained why God gave the law of Moses to Israel (see Galatians 3:19–25). The law was a temporary measure given to Israel by God because of Israel’s transgression. It was a “schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ” and would last only until Christ came (Galatians 3:24). One way the law of Moses would have prepared Israel to receive Christ was to cause people to realize that they could not keep the law perfectly and therefore needed a Savior (see Romans 3:20, 23–24; Galatians 3:22). The Book of Mormon prophet Abinadi gave a very clear explanation of the purpose of the law of Moses, found in Mosiah 13:29–30.
The Joseph Smith Translation provides insight into why the law of Moses was given and explains that Jesus Christ is the “mediator of life”:
“Wherefore then, the law was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made in the law given to Moses, who was ordained by the hand of angels to be a mediator of this first covenant, (the law.)
“Now this mediator was not a mediator of the new covenant; but there is one mediator of the new covenant, who is Christ, as it is written in the law concerning the promises made to Abraham and his seed. Now Christ is the mediator of life; for this is the promise which God made unto Abraham” (Joseph Smith Translation, Galatians 3:19–20 [in the Bible appendix]).
Galatians 3:24–25. “We Are No Longer under a Schoolmaster”
Elder Paul V. Johnson of the Seventy taught that the problem Paul addressed in Galatians teaches us about the importance of accepting changes the Lord makes in His kingdom:
“Our willingness to accept change in the kingdom helps the Lord hasten His work (see D&C 88:73). Resistance to inspired change hinders progress of the kingdom. For example, in the last half of the New Testament a major challenge the Church faced was the issue of gentile converts being assimilated as Christians. This issue surfaces in the book of Acts and is a theme in many of Paul’s epistles. The problem stemmed from the fact that many Jewish Christians felt that gentile converts should be required to adhere to the ceremonial law of Moses. Even Peter’s dramatic revelation in the case of Cornelius, that the gospel should be taught to the Gentiles (see Acts 10–11), did not wipe the slate clean. And even after a special council in Jerusalem decided that the gentile converts need not be subject to the law and an epistle was written explaining this decision, the issue remained a source of contention and division (see Acts 15). This was a major change for the Church, and many members struggled with it.
“… Many Jews, and even Jewish Christians, … had lost sight of the intent and proper position of the law. One reason for this was the unauthorized addition of requirements and traditions around the law that helped obscure its real intent. These additions and traditions were no longer a ‘schoolmaster … unto Christ’ (Galatians 3:24), ‘pointing our souls to him’ (Jacob 4:5), but rather were so burdensome and consuming that many Jews looked ‘beyond the mark’ (Jacob 4:14) and put the perverted law in place of the Lawgiver Himself. …
“… I hope when we face change in the kingdom we can be like Paul and help foster that change rather than reacting like those who fought the change and hindered the progress of the work” (“Responding Appropriately to Change” [address to CES religious educators, Feb. 8, 2013], 1; si.lds.org).
Galatians 3:26–27. Faith and Baptism
Paul’s words found in Galatians 3:26–27 show that faith in Jesus Christ is linked to baptism. “The children of God” that Paul mentioned are those who have entered into a covenant relationship with God by being baptized. For further information on being “children of God,” see the commentary for Romans 8:14–16.
In the phrase “put on Christ,” the verb translated as “put on” comes from the Greek word enduō, which means “to endow.” The Greek word means to clothe oneself and in this phrase means to symbolically “put on” the attributes and enabling power of Jesus Christ (see also Ephesians 4:22, 24; 6:11; Colossians 3:9–12). Similarly, when faithful members of the Church receive their temple “endowment,” they covenant to take upon themselves the attributes of a Christlike life.
Galatians 3:28–29. “One in Christ Jesus”
Paul taught that the cultural separations that existed between Jews and Gentiles, slaves and masters, or men and women should no longer divide people in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Each member’s covenant relationship with Jesus Christ creates unity among all members (see Galatians 3:28 and the commentary for Ephesians 2:12–14, 18–19). Through baptism into Jesus Christ’s Church, we become part of “Abraham’s seed” and “heirs according to the promise” given to the ancient patriarch (Galatians 3:29), as the Lord declared in modern revelation through the Prophet Joseph Smith (see D&C 86:9; Abraham 2:6–11).
Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained how the Church today, like the New Testament Church, extends the invitation to all to come unto Christ:
“Jesus and His Apostles did not attempt to make Gentiles into Jews (see Romans 2:11; Galatians 2:11–16; 3:1–29; 5:1–6; 6:15). They taught Gentiles and Jews, attempting to make each of them into followers of Christ.
“Similarly, the present-day servants of the Lord do not attempt to make Filipinos or Asians or Africans into Americans. The Savior invites all to come unto Him (see 2 Nephi 26:33; D&C 43:20), and His servants seek to persuade all [people] to become Latter-day Saints” (“Repentance and Change,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2003, 39).
President James E. Faust explained how there can be both diversity and unity in the Church:
“As we move into more and more countries in the world, we find a rich cultural diversity in the Church. Yet everywhere there can be a ‘unity of the faith’ [Ephesians 4:13]. Each group brings special gifts and talents to the table of the Lord. We can all learn much of value from each other. But each of us should also voluntarily seek to enjoy all of the unifying and saving covenants, ordinances, and doctrines of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. …
“We do not lose our identity in becoming members of this church. We become heirs to the kingdom of God, having joined the body of Christ and spiritually set aside some of our personal differences to unite in a greater spiritual cause. We say to all who have joined the Church, keep all that is noble, good, and uplifting in your culture and personal identity. However, under the authority and power of the keys of the priesthood, all differences yield as we seek to become heirs to the kingdom of God, unite in following those who have the keys of the priesthood, and seek the divinity within us” (“Heirs to the Kingdom of God,” Ensign, May 1995, 62).
Galatians 4:1–9. “Thou Art No More a Servant, but a Son”
There are some ways in which our covenant relationship with God is like the relationship of a servant to his master (see Luke 17:7–10; Mosiah 2:17, 21; 5:13). But Paul taught the Galatians that our relationship with God is better understood as that of a child to a father (see Galatians 4:6–9). He declared to the Galatians that being a “son” in the gospel covenant was far better than being a servant to the false gods they had worshipped before they accepted the truth. In the parable of the prodigal son, the Savior taught that our Father in Heaven wants us to be His children in the gospel covenant. The parable teaches that the wayward son believed he had become permanently unworthy to be called his father’s son and asked to be his servant, but the father accepted him back as his son (see Luke 15:17–24).
Galatians 4:6–7. “Abba, Father” and “an Heir of God through Christ”
Galatians 4:9–15. Loss of Joy
Paul reminded the Galatian Saints of how well they had received him earlier (see Galatians 4:13–15). The question at the beginning of verse 15 could be paraphrased in this way: “What has happened to the joy you once spoke of?” They had once received Paul and his teachings with great happiness, as if he were an angel, but that happiness was now gone. The Jewish-Christian teachers who had led the Galatian Saints astray had opposed Paul and imposed the burdens of the Mosaic law upon the people, leading to a loss of happiness. The gospel of Jesus Christ, on the other hand, is meant to bring lasting joy (see John 15:11; Galatians 5:22).
The Joseph Smith Translation helps explain the meaning of Galatians 4:12: “Brethren, I beseech you to be perfect as I am perfect; for I am persuaded as ye have a knowledge of me, ye have not injured me at all by your sayings” (Joseph Smith Translation, Galatians 4:12). Paul asked the Galatian Saints to follow his example of someone who had lived the gospel and been greatly blessed.
Galatians 4:21–31. The Allegory of the Two Wives and Sons of Abraham
As recorded in Galatians 4:21–31, Paul drew a comparison between Abraham’s two wives and two sons. Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained this comparison:
“Paul here uses the life of Abraham as an allegory to dramatize the superiority of the gospel over the law of Moses—a mode of teaching designed to drive his doctrine home anew each time his hearers think of Abraham and his life.
“Hagar, the bondwoman, bore Ishmael; and Sarah, the freewoman, brought forth Isaac. Ishmael was born after the flesh, while Isaac, as a child of promise, came forth after the Spirit. Hagar is thus made to represent the old covenant, the law of Moses, the covenant under which men were subject to the bondage of sin; while Sarah symbolizes the new covenant, the gospel, the covenant under which men are made free, free from bondage and sin through Christ.
“Mt. Sinai, from whence the law came, and Jerusalem, from whence it is now administered, symbolize the law, and their children are in bondage. But the spiritual Jerusalem, the heavenly city of which the saints shall be citizens, is symbolized by Sarah, and she is the mother of freemen. Sarah, who was so long barren, as our spiritual mother, has now made us all, like Isaac, heirs of promise.
“But it is now, as it was then, those born after the flesh war against those born of the Spirit. And as God rejected Ishmael and accepted Isaac, so does he now reject those who cleave to the law of Moses and accept those who turn to Christ” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:477–78).
Paul’s teachings about the two covenants provided a foundation for his teachings, found in Galatians 5, that being part of the new covenant means being led to do good by the Spirit, not by the law. Paul’s contrasting images of bondage and freedom in the allegory of the two covenants also laid the groundwork for his teachings about liberty, found in Galatians 5:1, 13.
Abraham’s Two Wives and Sons: Symbols of the Old and New Covenants
Hagar (Agar) and Ishmael
Sarah and Isaac
Hagar, a bondwoman (servant), bore a son, Ishmael, naturally—described by Paul as “after the flesh” (Galatians 4:22–23).
Sarah, a freewoman, bore a son, Isaac, miraculously—a son of “promise” (Galatians 4:22–23).
Paul used Hagar and Ishmael as symbols for the law of Moses, which was received on Mount Sinai, and for the earthly city of Jerusalem. The law of Moses led to bondage, and Jerusalem was in bondage to the Romans (see Galatians 4:24–25).
Paul used Sarah and Isaac as symbols for the freedom of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the heavenly city of Jerusalem, which is free from bondage (see Galatians 4:24–26).
Jews under the old covenant—the law of Moses—are children of bondage. They continually persecute the Christians, just as Hagar and Ishmael persecuted Sarah and Isaac (see Galatians 4:24, 29).
Christians who embrace the new covenant—the gospel of Jesus Christ—are freed from the bondage of Mosaic rituals and are heirs to the promises made to Abraham (see Galatians 4:24, 30–31).
Galatians 5:1, 13. “Christ Hath Made Us Free”
In Galatians 5:1 Paul described the old covenant—the law of Moses—as a “yoke of bondage.” Elsewhere in the scriptures, bondage usually described the captivity of sin, but Paul used the word to describe the limitations and burdens of the law of Moses. By contrast, the Savior taught that His yoke was “easy”—a “light” burden—and that those who took His yoke upon them would “find rest unto [their] souls” (Matthew 11:28–30). Paul taught that the liberty of Christ meant that disciples were free to be led by the Spirit and were not constrained by the law (see Galatians 5:22–23).
President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95) explained that when our religious observance is not done “mechanically” but “because of our love for the Lord, in complete freedom and faith, we narrow our distance from him and our relationship to him becomes intimate. We are released from the bondage of legalism, and we are touched by the spirit and feel a oneness with God” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1964, 36).
President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) explained how the gospel of Jesus Christ makes us spiritually free: “True freedom lies in obedience to the counsels of God. … The gospel is not a philosophy of repression, as so many regard it. It is a plan of freedom that gives discipline to appetite and direction to behavior. Its fruits are sweet and its rewards are liberal” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1965, 78).
Paul admonished the Galatian Saints not to become “entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1). While today we do not worry about becoming entangled with the law of Moses, we “sometimes either consciously or unwittingly bind ourselves to the things of the world. As we do so, we place ourselves in a comparable position to Paul’s opponents in Galatia. … Christian liberty does not come from an absence of law; it comes from willingly yoking ourselves to Christ. The difficulty comes when we refuse to give up our other yokes, as did Paul’s opponents in Galatia. The yoke that they clung to was the law of Moses.
“In our day, our yoke, our law of Moses, is anything that prevents or impedes our total commitment to Christ and His gospel” (Gaye Strathearn, “Law and Liberty in Galatians 5–6,” in Go Ye into All the World: Messages of the New Testament Apostles , 70–71; rsc.byu.edu).
Galatians 5:2–4. The Galatian Saints Could Not Be Justified by the Law of Moses
Paul explained to the Galatians Saints the error of relying on the law of Moses for salvation and dismissing faith in Jesus Christ. If they did this, Christ’s Atonement would profit them nothing and would be of no effect (see Galatians 5:2–5). When Paul addressed “whosoever of you are justified by the law” (Galatians 5:4), he probably spoke with irony, since he had already made clear that no one can be justified by the law (see Galatians 3:11). The sense of Paul’s words might be, “You who think you can be justified by the law.” For such people, Paul taught, “Christ is become of no effect” (Galatians 5:4). Paul’s statement “Ye are fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4) means that if people try to obtain salvation only by observing the law of Moses, they have fallen from divine favor.
Galatians 5:16–25. “Walk in the Spirit”
Paul taught that we should “walk in the Spirit” and that if we do, we will overcome “the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). Paul’s words warned against participating in “works of the flesh” (see Galatians 5:19–21). These sins fall into four general categories. (1) Sexual sins. “Fornication” refers to any immoral sexual relationship; “lasciviousness” refers to unbridled or excessive lust. (2) Sins from the religious realm, such as idolatry and witchcraft. (3) Sins against other persons. “Variance” can be interpreted as discord and is an outgrowth of “hatred”; “emulations” are actions carried out in order to equal or be superior to another, often out of jealousy. (4) Sins associated with alcohol: “drunkenness” and “revellings.” Paul warned that those who habitually participate in these sins “shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21).
Galatians 5:22–25. “The Fruit of the Spirit”
Paul gave the Galatians several examples of the “fruit of the Spirit” (see Galatians 5:22–25). Elder Dennis E. Simmons of the Seventy gave further examples of the “fruit of the Spirit” and identified where these blessings are described in the scriptures:
“Paul described the fruit of the Spirit; that is, what the Spirit produces, ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness,’ and he observed, ‘Against such there is no law’ (Gal. 5:22–23). In other words, the Spirit can penetrate anything. No law can be passed which will preclude the Spirit from doing His work with an obedient follower of Christ. The scriptures teach us that the Spirit:
“• Enlightens the mind (see D&C 6:15);
“• ‘Leadeth to do good— … to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously’ (D&C 11:12);
“• Reveals the ‘truth of all things’ (Moro. 10:5);
“• Bears record of Father and Son (see D&C 20:27);
“• Knows all things (see D&C 42:17);
“• Convinces (see D&C 100:8);
“• Gives knowledge (see D&C 121:26);
“• Speaks in a ‘still small voice’ (1 Ne. 17:45);
“• Teaches a man to pray (see 2 Ne. 32:8);
“• Brings about mighty change (see Mosiah 5:2);
“• Gives assurances (see Alma 58:11);
“• Fills with ‘hope and perfect love’ (Moro. 8:26);
“• Gives liberty (see 2 Cor. 3:17);
“• Comforts (see John 14:16);
“• Speaks peace (Alma 58:11);
Galatians 6:7–9. “Whatsoever a Man Soweth, That Shall He Also Reap”
Paul taught that God cannot be mocked, for the law of the harvest applies to spiritual things as well as physical (see Galatians 6:7–9). He admonished that we “not be weary in well doing” (Galatians 6:9), for we will reap the blessings of our righteous actions, as well as the spiritually destructive results of sinful choices (see Mosiah 7:30–31; D&C 6:33). Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of the blessings assured by the law of the harvest: “[The Lord] is bound by his divine law to bless us for our righteousness. … [Galatians 6:7–9 is quoted.] May God bless us that we may sow to the Spirit in order that our harvest will be life everlasting” (“As a Man Soweth,” Ensign, May 1976, 65).
In an address focused on helping us avoid being deceived by Satan, Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained that the consequences of sin mentioned by Paul reflect divine justice: “If we indulge in drugs or pornography or other evils that the Apostle [Paul] called sowing to the flesh, eternal law dictates that we harvest corruption rather than life eternal. That is the justice of God, and mercy cannot rob justice. If an eternal law is broken, the punishment affixed to that law must be suffered. Some of this can be satisfied by the Savior’s Atonement, but the merciful cleansing of a soiled sinner comes only after repentance (see Alma 42:22–25), which for some sins is a prolonged and painful process” (“Be Not Deceived,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2004, 45).
What are the specific “yokes of bondage” that you think the Lord would want you to avoid? (see Galatians 5:1).
Think about your private prayers, scripture study, church attendance, service to others, and other religious practices. What does it mean for you to be led by the Spirit in these practices rather than having your actions dictated by laws? (see Galatians 3:2–5).
Points to Ponder
Ponder Galatians 2:20. Write a short paper about the ways you have experienced the meaning of Paul’s words in your life. Or write about how you can more fully experience this message in your life.
Paul taught that cultural differences should not divide followers of Jesus Christ. Write a list of ways you could help prevent divisions in your ward, branch, institute class, or family. Review the Epistle of Galatians, looking for passages about how to avoid divisions among people in these settings. Act on the impressions you receive from the Spirit about how to apply Paul’s teachings.