How to Read Galatians

The Book of Galatians

Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application. 

Galatians shows us how God makes us into a new creation. This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the structure of Galatians, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use these questions as a guide as you watch this video.  

Now that you have an overview of Galatians in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in Galatians. Read Galatians 2:15–21. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about Galatians 2:15–21.  

Galatians 2:15-21 (ESV)

Justified by Faith

15We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners;16yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

17But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!18For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.19For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.20I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.21I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: A person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus.

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about Galatians 2:15–21? (Consider the major characters, locations, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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Where an observation determines what the passage says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the passage means. We’ve asked what the passage says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) A person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus. (Interpretation) Our salvation does not rest on whether or not we are good enough. We cannot be justified before God through good works, but only through faith in Jesus. Salvation comes through Christ alone, not by how we act.

Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of Galatians 2:15–21? How does its message connect with the main message of all of Galatians? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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 Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example: Paul references the works of the law. In the Old Testament, God gave the Israelites the Law as part of His covenant with them. They agreed to uphold the Law (rules that included dietary restrictions, Sabbath rituals, how to treat foreigners, and much more) but continually failed. Jesus came and fulfilled the Law to perfection. Through faith in Him, we receive salvation bought by His blood, affirmed by the Resurrection, and sealed in the Holy Spirit.

Contextualize: What themes does Galatians 2:15–21 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the book of Galatians? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to the Old Testament?
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 Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: Because my salvation does not rest in my works, I am free to enjoy salvation in Christ. I don't have to strive to appease God—He's already been appeased through Jesus. I can still do good works, such as spend time with God, pray with other believers, and observe the Sabbath. But instead of doing good in order to gain God's approval, I work out my salvation out of love for God.

Apply: How does the truth from Galatians 2:15–21 affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in this book this week? If you're having trouble coming up with an application of this particular passage, how could you apply the main message of Galatians to your life this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video.   

Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about Galatians, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through Galatians this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice. 

To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.