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As the early church took shape in the mid-first century a.d., a theological struggle of great consequence was joined between the apostle Paul and certain theologians who had intruded into the churches founded by the apostle in Galatia. Writing his letter to the Galatians in the midst of that struggle, Paul was concerned to find a way by which he could assert the radical newness of God’s act in Christ while still affirming the positive relation of that act to the solemn promise God had made centuries earlier to Abraham.
With the skill of a seasoned scholar and teacher, J. Louis Martyn enables us to take imaginary seats in the Galatian churches so that we may hear Paul’s words with the ears of the early Christians themselves. Listening in this manner, we begin to sense the dramatic intensity of the theological struggle, thus coming to understand the crucial distinctions between the theology of Paul and that of his opponents. We can therefore see why Galatians proved to be a momentous turning point in early Christianity: In this letter Paul preached the decisive and liberating newness of Christ while avoiding both the distortions of anti-Judaism and his opponents’ reduction of Christ to a mere episode in the epic of Israel’s history. Like the Galatians of Paul’s day, we can begin to hear what the apostle himself called “the truth of the gospel.”