Galatians: Expository Outlines with Bibliography

Douglas Ezell  |  Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 15 - Fall 1972

Because we do not have access to the original outline of the authors, all outlines of biblical books are by necessity artificial. The interpreter is called upon to work back from the finished product to an organizing structure for the book. To do this he must acquire a “feel” for the author’s purpose. This can best be acquired by repetitive concentrated reading in the original language, standard translations, and interpretive paraphrases.

In the case of occasional letters such as Galatians, there was no formal outline prior to the writing of the letter. Paul was an agitated apostle when he wrote Galatians. False teachers were troubling his converts and his aggravation over the resultant situation was reflected in the grammatical structure of the letter. Paul could not finish one thought before he was off on another point to strengthen his argument for the true gospel. Paul was “thinking on his feet” and structure and proportion were not his primary concerns.

The result of composing a letter under these circumstances is that Paul’s argument is not always easy to follow, nor is his meaning always clear. In proportion to its size, Galatians contains more difficult passages than any of Paul’s other letters. One passage (Gal. 3:19, 20) is so difficult that commentators have produced almost three hundred (300) interpretations of it. These problems of interpretation also make the book difficult to outline. The outlines in this article are presented with the conviction that the profit of an outline outweighs its problems.

An outline gives structure and balance to the material under investigation. This will aid the teacher in dividing his material proportionately for each study session. The student and teacher will be able to use an outline as a framework in which to structure a fuller understanding of the book. Also, an outline is an aid in working through the complex arguments presented by Paul in Galatians. Admittedly, outlines are interpretive. A particular way of understanding Galatians is projected through the outline of an interpreter. The student can react either positively or negatively to the outline. In either case the outline begins to highlight the significant themes and issues of the letter for the student’s investigation. An outline also can aid communication. Effective communication must be structured. Selecting an outline (or developing your own) will assist the teacher in determining the relative prominence of the ideas and detail which constitute the whole. Following the pattern established by an outline, the teacher can avoid giving too much attention to some details while omitting others. The following outlines are designed to aid study and communication of the message of Galatians.

Galatians in outline: Two interpretive alternatives.

The first outline highlights the element of contrast which runs throughout Galatians. Paul contrasts key concepts of the gospel with prominent concepts in the arguments of the false teachers. Through the use of contrast between the key concepts of the gospel and the prominent concepts in the argument of the false teachers, Paul develops his case for the superiority of justification by grace through faith.

The second outline is developed around a key verse in Galatians (Gal. 5:1). Paul declares, “For freedom Christ has set us free; standfast therefore, and do not submit to a yoke of slavery.” This verse is a capsule summary of the essential message of Galatians.



  1. Paul’s authority from God not man: Contrast between divine and human authority (Gal. 1:1-5).
    1. Paul affirms his commission or authority (Gal. 1:1-2).
    2. The authoritative message (Gal. 1:3-5).
  2. The one gospel or another gospel: Contrast between the true gospel and any other gospel (Gal. 1:6-9).
    1. The instability of the faith of the Galatians (Gal. 1:6).
    2. The false teachers’ reversal of the gospel (Gal. 1:7).
    3. The denunciation of the false teachers (Gal. 1:8-9).
  3. Pleasing men or God? Contrast between the favor of men and the favor of God (Gal. 1:10-2:21).
    1. Paul’s denunciation of the false teachers indicated he is not a man pleaser (Gal. 1:10).
    2. Paul’s gospel came from God, not man (Gal. 1:11-12).
    3. Paul’s “autobiography” of his conversion and commission confirm that he serves God and not man (Gal. 1:13-2:21).
      1. Paul’s conversion and call: From God, not man (Gal. 1:13-17).
      2. Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18-24).
      3. Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem: Paul’s gospel confirmed (Gal. 2:1-10).
      4. Paul’s clash with Peter’s action under pressure: Contrast between professing salvation by faith in Christ while living by law and professing and living by faith (Gal. 2:11-21).
        1. Peter’s separation from Gentiles (Gal. 2:11-13).
        2. Paul’s rebuke (Gal. 2:14).
        3. Paul’s declaration of justification by faith: Contrast between justification by faith in Christ and works of the law (Gal. 2:15-21).
          1. Jews no better than Gentiles (Gal. 2:15- 17).
          2. Dead to the Law and alive to God (Gal. 2:18-19).
          3. Christ the agent of death to the Law and Life to God (Gal. 2:20-21).
  4. The Gospel over the Law: Contrast between the Power of the Gospel and the Curse of the Law (Gal. 3:1-4:31).
    1. The gospel confirmed by experience: Contrast between faith and works, also spirit and flesh for justification (Gal. 3:1-5).
    2. The gospel confirmed by scripture: Contrast between the promise and the Law as the way to the inheritance of Abraham (Gal. 3:6-18).
      1. Sons of Abraham by faith or works (Gal. 3:6-9)?
      2. Redeemed by the Law or Christ (Gal. 3:10-14)?
      3. The inheritance by Law or promise (Gal. 3:15-18)?
    3. The gospel and the true function of the Law (Gal. 3:19-4:7).
      1. The Law exposed sin as transgression (Gal. 3:19-22).
      2. The Law was preparatory and provisional (Gal. 3:23-4:11).
        1. Under Law or in Christ (Gal. 3:23-29).
        2. Slaves or sons (Gal. 4:1-11).
      3. The relation between Paul and the Galatians: A personal note interrupting Paul’s argument which contrasts the Galatians’ former attitude toward Paul and their present attitude. It also contrasts Paul’s attitude toward the Galatians with that of the false teachers (Gal. 4: 12-20).
      4. The gospel illustrated by Paul’s interpretation of Isaac and Ishmael: Contrast between the slave son (an illustration of those under the law) and the free son (an illustration of those under grace) (Gal. 4:21-31).
  5. Living under the gospel rather than Law (Gal. 5:1-6:10).
    1. A call to freedom (Gal. 5:1-25).
      1. The danger of the message bf bondage: Freedom vs. legalism (Gal. 5:1-12).
      2. The true nature of freedom: Freedom vs. license (Gal. 5:13-15).
      3. The way of freedom: Fruit of the spirit vs. works of the flesh (Gal. 5:16-25).
    2. The everyday exercise of freedom (Gal. 5:26-6:10).
      1. No self-centeredness (Gal. 5:26).
      2. Gently restore the fallen brother (Gal. 6:1).
      3. Share the burdens (Gal. 6:2).
      4. Know one’s own need of grace (Gal. 6:3).
      5. Test one’s own labor rather than criticizing their neighbor’s (Gal. 6:4).
      6. Shoulder your share of the load (Gal. 6:5).
      7. Share with those who minister (Gal. 6:6).
      8. Sow to the spirit rather than the flesh (Gal. 6:7-8).
      9. Do no grow weary in service (Gal. 6:9).
      10. Do good to all men (Gal. 6:10).
  6. A Summation: The essence of Christian faith is to glory in ·the cross of Christ in contrast to glorying in the flesh (Gal. 6:11-18).


  1. Jesus means freedom under the authority of God (Gal. 1:1-5).
    1. Commission to the gospel of freedom (Gal. 1:1-2).
    2. The message of freedom (Gal. 1:3-5).
  2. A threat to freedom in Jesus by another gospel (Gal. 1: 6-9).
    1. The freedom of Grace disturbed by another gospel (Gal. 1:6).
    2. The distortion of the gospel of freedom (Gal. 1:7).
    3. A denunciation of the variance from the gospel of freedom (Gal. 1:8-9).
  3. Jesus means freedom to stand under God’s Word rather than man’s (Gal. 1:10-2:21).
    1. Freedom to seek only God’s favor (Gal. 1:10).
    2. Freedom to speak only God’s good news (Gal. 1:11-12).
    3. Freedom to serve only God confirmed by Paul’s “autobiography” (Gal. 1:13-2:14).
      1. Conversion to freedom initiated by God, not man (Gal. 1:13-17).
      2. A commission to the gospel of freedom from God, not man (Gal. 1:18-2:10).
        1. Paul’s freedom under God confirmed by his in­ dependence from Peter: Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18-24).
        2. Paul’s freedom under God confirmed by the approval of his gospel: Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem (Gal. 2:1-10).
      3. A conflict tests the freedom bestowed by the gospel of grace—a demonstration of freedom.
        1. Peter surrenders his freedom (Gal. 2:11-13).
        2. Paul rebukes the action and affirms the freedom of the gospel (Gal. 2:14).
  4. Jesus means freedom through justification by faith (Gal. 2:15-21).
    1. Freedom for Jew and Gentile is by faith, not works (Gal. 2: 15-17).
    2. Freedom means dead to the Law and alive to God (Gal. 2:18-19).
    3. Freedom is the gift of the finished work of the cross (Gal. 2:20-21).
  5. Jesus means freedom for the gospel has broken the curse of the Law (Gal. 3:1-18:31).
    1. Freedom in the Spirit by faith confirmed in experience (Gal. 3:1-5).
    2. Freedom in the Spirit by faith confirmed in scripture (Gal. 3:6-18).
      1. Freedom for Abraham and his sons by faith, not works (Gal. 3:6-9).
      2. Freedom from the curse of the Law by faith in the work of Christ (Gal. 3:10-14).
      3. Freedom a gift promised by God, not a price purchased by man (Gal. 3:15-18).
  6. Jesus means freedom from the bondage of sin exposed by the Law (Gal. 3:19-4:31).
    1. Under Law man’s bondage in sin is confirmed (Gal. 3:19-22).
    2. Under Law man’s bondage in sin is secured (Gal. 3: 23-29).
    3. Under Law man is a bond slave and not a free son (Gal. 4: 1-31).
      1. An appeal to the Galatians’ former satisfaction in freedom. (This interrupts Paul’s argument to illustrate the change in their reception of him and to contrast Paul’s attitude toward the Galatians with that of the false teachers.) (Gal. 4:12-20).
      2. An interpretation of Isaac and Ishmael to illustrate slavery under Law and freedom under Grace (Gal. 4:21-31).
  7. Jesus means freedom under Grace (Gal. 5:1 6:10).
    1. Freedom from the yoke of slavery under Law to life under Grace.
      1. Freedom from legalism (Gal. 5:1-12).
      2. Freedom from license (Gal. 5:13-15).
      3. Freedom to the way of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-25).
    2. Freedom exercised under Grace (Gal. 5:26-6:10).
      1. Freedom to give self to others (Gal. 5:26-6:2).
        1. Free to trust God’s grace (Gal. 5:26).
        2. Free to restore a fallen brother (Gal. 6:1).
        3. Free to share a brother’s burden (Gal. 6:2).
      2. Freedom to shoulder responsibility.
        1. Shouldering the responsibility for our need of grace (Gal. 6:3).
        2. Shouldering the responsibility for evaluation of our labors (Gal. 6:4).
        3. Shouldering the responsibility for our own work (Gal. 6:5).
        4. Shouldering the responsibility to share with those who minister (Gal. 6:6).
      3. Freedom to sow to the Spirit rather than the flesh (Gal. 6:7-10).
        1. Sowing to the Spirit will result in reaping eternal life (Gal. 6:7-8) .
        2. Sowing to the Spirit is not growing weary in service (Gal 6:9).
        3. Sowing to the Spirit is doing good to all men (Gal. 6:10).
  8. A Summation: Jesus means freedom to glory in the work of Christ on the Cross in contrast to glory in self-merit (Gal. 6:11-18).


Galatians in study: An Annotated Bibliography

Outlines will not substitute for a study of the letter itself. There is no substitute for your personal encounter with the Word of God. Several excellent commentaries are available to aid pastors and laymen in their investigation of Galatians. The following annotated bibliography is suggestive and by no means exhaustive:


Burton, Ernest Dewitt. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians. New York: Scribner, 1920 (The International Critical Commentary).

This is the English language classic on Galatians. The study is unequaled in its critical analysis of the Greek text. The separate notes on Pauline vocabulary are extremely helpful. Of its kind, this volume has no peer.

Cole, Alan. The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971 (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries).

Though not unduly technical, this commentary has helpful discussions of critical issues and the exegetical work is clear and to the point. This commentary would be helpful to a pas­ tor who desires solid evangelical scholarship presented in a concise format.

Guthrie, Donald, ed. Galatians. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons LTD, 1969 (The Century Bible).

Guthrie gives a very clear and helpful introduction to Galatians. The discussion of significant Greek words is extremely valuable.

MacGorman, John William. “Galatians.” Vol. XI. The Broad­ man Bible Commentary. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971.

This commentary is a superb critical and exegetical study of Galatians, and one of the best offerings in the Broadman Bible Commentary. The exegetical work is extremely helpful in unraveling difficult passages and presenting the representative interpretations as well as the author’s own insights.

Ridderbos, Herman N. The Epistle of Paul to the Churches of Galatia. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1953.

A good critical and exegetical commentary with helpful notes on the Greek text.

Stott, John R. W. The Message of Galatians. London: Intervarsity Press, 1968.

An excellent biblical exposition in a popular style. Pastors preparing to teach Galatians will find this book to be an excellent example of how to blend solid scholarship and exegesis with popular and relevant exposition.

Special Studies:

Barclay, William. Flesh and Spirit: An Examination of Galatians 5:19-23. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962.

An excellent word study of each of the Greek words in the lists of the works of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit in Gal. 5:19-23.

Mulder, Bernard J. “Galatians.” From Bondage to Freedom. Richmond: CLC Press, 1967.

This study is a unit in a series of Bible studies of Exodus, Isaiah 40-66, John and Galatians in one volume. It provides a brief and helpful overview of the contents of Galatians.

Study Guides:

Blackwood, Andrew W., Jr. Galatians. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972.

Doctrinal, practical, and homiletical aids are presented on each chapter of Galatians.

Colson, Howard P. and Dean, Robert J. Galatians: Freedom Through Christ. Nashville: Convention Press, 1972.

The official Convention study course book for January Bible study.

DeWolf, Harold L. Galatians: A Letter for Today. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971.

A study designed to describe and demonstrate a method of Bible study and to explore the message of Galatians.

Vaughan, Curtis. Galatians: A Stud y Guide. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972.

An example of biblical exposition of the highest quality.

Galatians in Communication: Suggested approaches for presentation

The outline which highlights the element of contrast suggests one approach to presenting the message of Galatians. The contrasts established by Paul provide a convenient structure for the exposition of Galatians.

The second outline shows how a theme such as freedom can be used to present Galatians. The theme “Flesh vs. Spirit” can also be used as an orienting category. Some expositors show how each stage of Paul’s argument can be seen as an aspect of the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit.

Rather than using one theme, an expositor can also develop his presentation by selecting various key themes in Galatians and dealing with all the scriptures on each key theme as a unit of study. Galatians is also a theology book in miniature. This book can be organized around central doctrines of the Christian faith.

Many helpful suggestions for learning activities are discussed in the Teaching Guide for Galatians by Dwayne B. Zimmer. These activities can be used regardless of the approach to presentation you select.

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