Galatians 5:2-4 In Light Of The Doctrine Of Justification -- By: Monte A. Shanks

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 169:674 (Apr 2012)
Article: Galatians 5:2-4 In Light Of The Doctrine Of Justification
Author: Monte A. Shanks


Galatians 5:2-4 In Light Of The Doctrine Of Justification

Monte A. Shanks

Monte Shanks is Assistant Professor of New Testament, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, Lynchburg, Virginia.

Galatians 5:2-4 is a prime example of a New Testament passage that presents interpretive challenges. Unfortunately some interpreters give little consideration to the context of the passage, and by doing so they negatively impact their ability to understand the passage. This article addresses the context of the passage and seeks to interpret it accurately.

The Context Of Galatians

From Paul’s perspective the situation among believers in Galatia had changed dramatically since his last visit. When Paul left Galatia, he apparently felt comfortable about the church’s future.1 His letter, written a short time afterward, however, demonstrates that the situation at the church had changed for the worse and that he was now concerned for its spiritual condition. In reading Galatians one gets the impression that Paul was perplexed as to how this situation could have occurred and what to think about the young church (1:6; 3:1, 3; 4:8-11, 15, 19-20).

Failure to recognize that Paul viewed the situation at Galatia as changed creates the potential for an interpretive error with respect to understanding 5:2-4. Some writers assume that all of Galatians was directed only to believers and that nowhere in the epistle did Paul address unbelievers or his opponents.2 Some do not consider the possibility that in writing Galatians Paul was confronting an audience composed of people in different spiritual conditions.3

Since the Galatian situation had changed, the possible groups Paul addressed in this epistle need to be identified before approaching the target passage. The first group is believers. That group was composed of two subgroups. The first subgroup is Jewish believers. This is evident from passages such as 2:15-17 and all of chapter 3, in which Paul explained the purpose of the Law and the Abrahamic covenant. Most likely the church at Galatia included Jewish believers, and they possibly comprised the majority.4 The second subgroup is believing Gentiles. This is obvious because the rite of circumcision was at the heart of Paul’s debate in Galatians, and since Jewish men were circumcised at birth it is clear that Paul was also addressing Gentile men.

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