Holman New Testament Commentary - Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians

Holman New Testament Commentary - Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians

by Max E. Anders, Max E. Anders

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One in a series of twelve New Testament verse-by-verse commentary books edited by Max Anders. Includes discussion starters, teaching plan, and more. Great for lay teachers and pastors alike.


One in a series of twelve New Testament verse-by-verse commentary books edited by Max Anders. Includes discussion starters, teaching plan, and more. Great for lay teachers and pastors alike.

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Holman New Testament Commentary

Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians & Colossians

By Max Anders

Holman Reference

Copyright © 1999 Broadman & Holman Publishers
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8054-0208-7


Galatians 1

* * *

You Were Born to Be Free

Coup in Grenada

A verse-by-verse explanation of the chapter.
Fight or Switch?
Searching for the Keys to Heaven

An overview of the principles and applications from the chapter.
Tying the chapter to life with God.
Historical, geographical, and grammatical enrichment of the commentary.
Suggested step-by-step group study of the chapter.
Zeroing the chapter in on daily life.

* * *


"This land will remain the land of the free only as long as it is the home of the brave." Elmer Davis


• Written not to one church but to all the churches in the region of Galatia.

• Probably written to churches Paul helped establish during one of his missionary journeys to the region.

• Written to help offset the influence of false teachers, who taught that to be saved Gentiles must keep the Mosaic Law in addition to believing in Christ.

• Theme: We are saved by grace and must live by grace, not by law, for no one can keep the law.


• Galatia was a region, not a city, in modern Turkey.

• People of the region were Celtic (originating in the British Isles, especially Ireland), who migrated to this area because of conflict with the Romans in their homeland.

• At the time of the New Testament, Galatia became a Roman province.

• Boundaries of Galatia are uncertain, but it may have contained the cities of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe.


• Jew, born in Tarsus, near the Lebanese border in modern Turkey.

• Roman citizen.

• Prominent, highly educated Jewish religious leader (Pharisee).

• Dramatically converted to Christianity, A.D. 35.

• Primary apostle to the Gentiles.

• Tireless missionary.

• Imprisoned in Rome, A.D. 67, during reign of Nero.

• Died in prison, A.D. 68.


In chapter 1, Paul explains to the Galatian Christians: I am astonished that you are turning away from the gospel of grace which I taught you to a system of works and law. Anyone who teaches you this should be accursed. I learned this message from Jesus himself, as the church leaders in Jerusalem will verify.

You Were Born to Be Free


Coup in Grenada

In the fall of 1983, a coup occurred on the Western Caribbean island of Grenada. Cuban-backed communists overthrew the government and installed a totalitarian dictatorship. Under martial rule, the people instantly lost their freedom and liberty. Over one hundred dissenters, including fifty children, were rounded up and marched into the fort of the capital city of St. George. They completely disappeared. A local pastor relayed the terror of living in the midst of this oppression. He believed that these innocent children were killed and dumped at sea.

This ploy did not go unnoticed. President Ronald Reagan quickly deployed a military rescue team to Grenada. They struck in the middle of the night. Within a day, the island was free again. The people of Grenada learned that liberty is most precious when it is suddenly taken away.

A similar coup occurred in the first-century church. Jewish believers — frequently called Judaizers — invaded the Galatian churches and through legalism stole the people's freedom in Christ. They denied Paul's message that salvation and maturity were through grace by simple faith in Christ. Rather, they taught that "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1; compare Gal. 6:2). Not only did these Judaizers contradict Paul's message of grace, but they also denied his apostleship.

Sadly, many Galatian believers began believing these false teachers. They submitted to circumcision and other Old Testament laws to win God's approval, gain eternal life, and mature in Christ. With all the external regulations, they felt like slaves as they tried meticulously to obey the law. Therefore, they were no longer free in Christ.

Then "to the rescue" came Paul, the liberator. His "smoking gun" was a six-chapter defense of grace known to us as "Galatians." In this letter, Paul went to the very fort of legalism and through closely reasoned biblical logic destroyed its errors. His bold defense of grace restored the Galatians and saved the early church from a cultic division. Because the message of Galatians frees Christians from the oppression of legalism, it has been called the "Magna Carta" of Christianity. Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation, loved Galatians and considered it the best of all books. He even compared his love for this book with his love for his wife, Katherine. Luther said, "The epistle to the Galatians is my epistle. To it I am, as it were, in wedlock. It is my Katherine."

So read and appreciate this book that was the catalyst for the Reformation. Read on and develop a deep fondness for the courageous apostle Paul, our freedom-fighting hero. This defense of the gospel preserved grace for the Galatians and us.


You Were Born to Be Free

MAIN IDEA:Paul, the messenger of grace, is trustworthy because he received his message directly from God, and it dramatically changed his life.

[A] Greeting (vv. 1–5)

SUPPORTING IDEA:The risen Christ is our only source of salvation and with the Father our only source for mission.

1:1. Paul is the author of the Book of Galatians. God called him to be an apostle and sent him on the special mission of evangelizing the Gentiles. The opening of Galatians is unusual for Paul. In most of his letters, he begins with a thanksgiving for the recipients, but in Galatians he omits this customary praise. Why is this omission significant? Because Paul was alarmed that the Galatians had fallen into the lethal trap of legalism. He was astonished that they questioned his authority as an apostle. Therefore, as a surgeon going after the tumor, Paul avoided small talk and cut in immediately to declare his case. Since his message and apostleship were being questioned, Paul began, even in this greeting, to present his divine credentials. No human institution nor any individual sent him. Jesus Christ, the resurrected One, along with God the Father was the only reason he became an apostle to the Gentiles.

1:2. This letter was not only from Paul but also from all the brothers with me. Paul's companions included Barnabas and others from Antioch (see Acts 13:1). Paul mentions these recognized coworkers to legitimize further his apostleship and authority.

Throughout this chapter Paul cites his association with the apostles and key church leaders as a way to substantiate his credibility and apostleship. Paul and his associates addressed this letter to the various churches in the Roman province of Galatia.

1:3. Grace and peace summarize Paul's gospel of salvation. Grace, God's unmerited favor, is the source of salvation (Eph. 2:8–9). When a person believes in Jesus Christ, he or she receives salvation and peace with God, others, and self. Thus, grace leads to peace. Peace represents life in its wholeness or fullness, a life filled with a sense of satisfaction that only God can give.

1:4. Grace not only saves us from the penalty of sin; it also delivers us from the power of sin. We have been rescued from the enslaving power of this present evil age — a world ruled by Satan, full of cruelty, tragedy, temptation, and deception. Later in chapter 5 Paul will explain how grace works in our lives to give us this power over sin's slavery. Christ accomplished the victory over sin through the voluntary gift of himself to us in dying on the cross. This was all according to God's eternal plan to bring us salvation.

1:5. Forever we will praise God for his grace which saves us from both the penalty and power of sin. To give glory to God:

Is to praise, to recognize the importance of another, the weight the other carries in the community. In the Psalms people give such glory to God, that is they recognize the essential nature of his Godness that gives him importance and weight in relationship to the human worshiping community. (Comp. Pss. 22:23; 86:12; Isa. 24:15).... Divine glory means that humans do not seek glory for themselves (Matt. 6:2; John 5:44; 1 Thess. 2:6). They only look to receive praise and honor from Christ (Rom. 2:7; 5:2; 1 Thess. 2:19; Phil. 2:16) ("Glory," Holman Bible Dictionary, 557).

[B] The Distortion of the Gospel of Grace Condemned (vv. 6–10)

SUPPORTING IDEA:For Christians to submit to legalistic teachers is almost beyond comprehension and deserves strong condemnation.

1:6. Paul was astonished the Galatians were so quicklydeserting (like a military desertion) from the gospel of grace. This meant they were deserting God, turning their backs on him. It was almost beyond Paul's comprehension that they, having once been delivered from the bondage of law, would go back into this religious prison. Paul calls the Judaizer's blend of law and grace a different gospel, thus declaring that mixing law with the gospel is a distortion of truth. Even today, this Galatian error is repeated when people say, "This is what you have to do to be saved; join our church, obey our rules, submit to our baptism, practice our liturgy, worship the way we do, work hard, prove your worth, and earn God's love. In the end, if you are good enough, God will accept you." A works-based gospel is different from the message of grace.

1:7 In fact, a works-based, human-effort driven gospel is no gospel at all. How is a demand for impossible human achievement good news? Anyone who presents a way of salvation that depends in any way on works, rather than God, has contaminated the gospel message. They confuse honest, sincere believers. They have no gospel, no good news.

1:8. A hypothetical case shows the seriousness of legalism's perversion of grace. Through hyperbole (a deliberate exaggeration for emphasis), Paul declares that anyone who preaches a mixture of grace and law is worthy of eternal condemnation. A teacher who requires others to obey the law as a requirement for salvation is leading others to a Christless eternity. Paul uses strong language because he is dealing with a life-or-death situation. You must choose: the gospel of grace Paul preached or the gospel of works the perverters preached.

1:9.Ditto! Paul repeated his curse for effect. Any person who preaches a gospel that requires more than God's grace for salvation deserves to suffer in hell for eternity.

1:10. Paul's critics accused him of preaching "easy believism" because he did not include the law as grounds for salvation and Christian maturity. They claimed Paul watered down the gospel, by omitting the law, to increase his popularity among the Gentiles. Through two rhetorical questions, Paul adamantly denies the charge and states clearly that his motive is to please only God. He was concerned with preserving truth not increasing his approval ratings. To please people is to desert Christ. You must choose: serve people's fickle pleasures or serve the faithful Christ.

[C] The True Source of the Gospel (vv. 11–12)

SUPPORTING IDEA:Paul's gospel of grace is true because it came directly from God.

1:11. The Judaizers knew that if they could undermine Paul's apostolic authority they could defeat his message of liberty. So Paul now defends his apostleship and message. The Judaizers said Paul perverted the gospel by omitting the Law of Moses; in reality, the Judaizers perverted the gospel by adding legalism. Paul now presents the first reason the Galatians should listen to him and not the false teachers: the gospel is not man-made (compare v. 1). No human mind apart from God's revelation would dream up a plan of salvation wholly dependent on God's grace and the death of his Son.

1:12. This first reason leads to the inescapable conclusion: If Paul's gospel is not man-made, then it is God-made. While the Galatians had been taught by humans (originally by Paul and later by these false teachers), Paul had been taught directly by Christ, the highest authority. The gospel of grace that Paul preached is true because it came directly from God.

[D] The Truth of the Gospel Presented (vv. 13–24)

SUPPORTING IDEA:Paul's gospel of grace is true because it dramatically changed his life.

1:13. Paul now presents his second proof that his gospel of grace is true: his own miraculous life change. Paul is living proof that God changes lives (see 2 Cor. 5:17). He knew that his testimony was powerful evidence not only of the reality and relevance of God but also of the credibility of his ministry. Paul began his testimony by reminding the Galatians of who he had been. (see Acts 9; 22; 26 for a deeper understanding of his past). Rabbi Saul of Tarsus set out to destroy the infant church of Jesus. The church feared him greatly.

1:14. Not only did he persecute the church, Rabbi Saul advanced up the Jewish ranks. As a Pharisee, he had been one of the strictest Jews of his day (Phil. 3:4–6), stricter than even these legalistic teachers who now opposed the gospel of grace. Paul knew well the legalism that the false teachers were teaching the Galatians. Prior to his conversion he had been such a loyal legalist that he even tried to destroy Christianity (Acts 7).

1:15. What happened to change Rabbi Saul into apostle Paul? God dramatically intervened in his life. Christ appeared to Saul on the Damascus road and brought about his conversion (Acts 9). Why did God do this? It was all part of God's eternal plan to take the good news to the whole world. God had planned Paul's part in this eternal mission even before Paul was born. Paul did not enter the missionary work and develop the missionary gospel message on his own. God was responsible for it all. He called Paul.

Thus, Paul shows that both his conversion and his commission were from God rather than man. His conversion from persecutor to preacher could only be explained as a miracle of God and a great proof of his authenticity and apostolic authority. What greater credibility could one have for ministry!

1:16. Paul played one last trump card against his opponents. His entire mission was based on revelation. God had shown Jesus Christ to Paul. This was the basis of his apostolic office, for only one who had witnessed and could personally testify to Christ's resurrection could be an apostle (Acts 1:22). On the Damascus road, Jesus appeared to Paul in person.

From that point on, Jesus lived in Paul, and Paul was in Christ. That meant Christ could work through Paul to reveal himself to others. Paul's unique mission was to take the gospel to the Gentiles. How did he train for that mission? After his conversion he could have gone directly to Jerusalem to learn more from the apostles but did not. Indeed, Paul did not consult any man.

1:17. Paul stayed away from Jerusalem. Instead, he went to Arabia and then back to Damascus. His purpose in going to Arabia was to pray, study, and be alone with the Lord. It was three years before he went to Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18). Interestingly, the apostles were taught by the Lord for three years; now it was Paul's turn to spend three years also being trained by Christ. It was a dramatic change to go from persecutor to apostle of Christ. Paul needed this time to be taught by the Lord so his Christian theology could be forged.

l:18–19. Paul traveled to Jerusalem to spend fifteen days with Peter and James. Because Paul had been taught by the Lord for three years, he could now fellowship with the key apostles as a peer and not as a pupil. Apostolic peer rather than peerless persecutor!

1:20. The heat of the argument with his opponents becomes apparent here. Paul swears an oath in the presence of God.


Excerpted from Holman New Testament Commentary by Max Anders. Copyright © 1999 Broadman & Holman Publishers. Excerpted by permission of Holman Reference.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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