Keller Explains Galatians


Timothy Keller. 2013. Galatians for You. USA: The Goodbook Company.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Commentaries are books about books and they come in handy when we read a culturally distant book like the Bible.  Biblical culture has at least three attributes that line up poorly with American culture.  The Bible is highly relational, reflective, and laconic (carefully chosen words) while American culture is transactional, superficial, and wordy—we are inundated daily with verbal and visual messages.  Consequently, one of the most difficult challenges in leading an adult Bible study today is finding a commentary that is both accessible and informative.  Timothy Keller’s, Galatians for You, meets both criteria.


Keller is the founding pastor (church planter) of Redeemer Presbyterian Church ( in New York City which is famous for successfully evangelizing young professionals. He received his masters of divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (GCTS) and doctorate from Westminster Theological Seminary.  He has written a number of books, including: The Reason for God (New York: Dutton, 2008) and The Meaning of Marriage (with Kathy Keller; New York: Dutton, 2011).  When GCTS set out a box full of Galatians for You in the library at for free distribution last spring, I snapped up a copy.

Series Description

Galatians for You is the first in a series of “for You” study guides. Why start a series with the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Galatians?  In an online video introduction (, Keller gives three reasons:  1. it provides a good summary of the Gospel, 2. it explains the uniqueness of salvation by grace and how it differs from the law, and 3. it helps explain how the Gospel transforms us through grace and fosters the fruits of the spirit.


Galatians for You is organized in 13 chapters.  In the book, 2 to 3 chapters are devoted to each of the 6 chapters in Galatians. These chapters each divide into two parts focusing on:  1. explaining the Biblical text and 2. applying the issues raised.  Both parts have study questions. A brief introduction precedes and a glossary, appendix, and bibliography follow these chapters.  The introduction summaries the theological issues presented in the letter and provides historical context.  The glossary defines technical terms appearing the text.  The appendix provides a brief explanation of the new perspective on Paul raging in theological circles.

Keller’s art begins with simple communication.  In his introduction, for example, he uses simple words to describe:  the gospel [as] the A to Z of the Christian life (9).  And his personal touch stands out as he identifies with Paul as a fellow: church-planting missionary (10).   Keller writes using lists and bullet points and shares both both information and emotion.  For example, his historical review consists of just three bullet points and his introduction observes Paul is both surprised and angry (13).  These characteristics identify him as a post modern writer and make his writing read like a blog.

Writer’s Craft

Keller’s craft runs through the entire commentary.  For example, salvation by grace differs from (presumed) salvation by law because grace depends on a promise while law depends on performance (78).  He writes:  For a promise to bring a result, it needs only to be believed, but for a law to bring a result, it has to be obeyed (11).  He classifies Christians (Paul’s audience) falling into four categories depending on whether they obey the law and/or rely on the law (versus grace) for their salvation.  These categories emerge: 1. law-obeying, law-relying (modern Pharisees), 2. Law-disobeying (libertines), law-relying (cultural Christians), 3. Law-disobeying, not law-relying (secular or relativistic), and 4. Law-obeying, not law-relying.  Keller observes that most Christians struggle to live out group 4 (obey the law out of gratitude), but often slip into one of the other three categories (117-118).  Keller’s willingness to struggle with these issues gives his writing depth. En un español se diría que es profundo.


Keller’s Galatians for You is a joy to read.  Many commentaries and study guides written for a lay audience fail to engage the text and completely ignore the struggles that a post-modern audience faces.  Keller is strong on both points.  I look forward to teaching this text.

Keller Explains Galatians

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Introduction to Galatians

GalatiansBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel (Galatians 1:6 ESV).

What exactly is the grace of Christ and what is the Gospel?  What is this different gospel that Paul writes about?  Over the coming six weeks, I hope to explore what Paul has to say about these and related topics in his letter to the Galatians.  My purpose today is to provide some background for this study.

Authorship, Location, and Date

No one disputes that the Apostle Paul wrote this letter (epistle) to the churches in Galatians.  However, since the nineteenth century, there has been a controversy among scholars as the location of these churches because the region of Galatia changed over time and included different ethnic communities.  In general, if Galatia refers to the southern part of Galatia, then the letter corresponds to Paul’s first missionary visit to the region (AD 49); if it corresponds to the northern part, then it corresponds to the second missionary visit (AD 53-57).

Other controversies revolve around lining up Paul’s trips to Jerusalem mentioned in Galatians 1:18 and 2:1 with corresponding verses in the Book of Acts.  Further disagreements arise in lining up the different passages where the region of Galatia is mentioned in the New Testament (NT).  These passages are:  Acts 16:6, 18:23, 1 Corinthians 16:1, Galatians 1:2, 3:1, 2 Timothy 4:10, and 1 Peter 1:1.  The details of these arguments are beyond the scope of this review [1].


The scholarly debate over Galatians is spirited because the letter compactly states the core themes in Paul’s theology.  Topics addressed include the relationship between law and gospel and between Jew and gentile.  Answers to these questions help define the nature of God’s grace, the role of our faith, and, in effect, the scope of Christian freedom.  The brevity of Paul’s letter forces scholars to interpret statements made in Galatians in terms of Paul’s other letters and the scope of other authors in the NT.


Hermes was the messenger god; hermeneutics is according the study of interpretation.  While there are many important schools of interpretation, three dominant interpretive views stand out: author, scriptural, and reader.  The author view asks:  what did the author mean to say?  The scriptural view asks:  when something is unclear, is there a clear statement elsewhere in scripture?  The reader view asks:  what does it mean to me?  John Calvin asked each of these questions and required also that interpretations consult the original languages of scripture—for example, Galatians was written in Greek.


It is helpful to use a wide variety of resources in Bible study even if time and energy are limited.  I plan to use these commentaries:

Bruce, FF. 1982.  The Epistle to the Galatians:  A Commentary on the Greek Text.  NIGTC.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

Hansen, G.W.. 1993. “Letter to the Galatians” pages 323-334 of Dictionary of Paul and His Letter. Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship.  Edited by Gerald F. Hawthorn, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid. Downers Grove:  InterVarsity Press.

Keller, Timothy.  2013.  Galatians for You.  USA:  TheGoodBook.

McKnight, Scot. 1995.  The NIV Application Commentary:  Galatians.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Of these, the Keller commentary is the most accessible to a lay reader.

I also make frequent reference to the Nestle-Aland Greek NT (Novum Testamentum Graece, 2012, Munich:  Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft) which includes an excellent concordance.


[1]If you are interested, check out:  (Hansen 1993, 327-328).

Introduction to Galatians

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