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To the Galatians

Historical Look at Paul's Epistle to the Church in Galatia.

The book of Galatians may be the earliest written book of the New Testament. It was written by the apostle Paul to the Christians in Galatia. There are two different views of just who is meant by “Galatians” though. During Paul’s lifetime and ministry, the Roman Empire combined two areas that were once separate (Galatia in the North and Phrygia in the South), into the Roman Province of Galatia. So politically and commercially this area of North and North-central Turkey was known as Galatia, but socially, it’s likely that only those in the North would have identified themselves as Galatians culturally.

In one view, Paul was using Galatia in the proper Roman way to mean all the Christians in the province whom he had visited. According to the book of Acts, he visited several cities in the southern part of Galatia. In another view, Paul was writing only to the people who would have identified themselves as culturally Galatian, meaning from the Northern area of the province.

“This is why at the beginning of the book of Galatians, Paul gives a defense of his ministry and apostleship…being called by Christ himself.

Galatians 1-2

From the book of Galatians itself, we know that Paul had visited the Christians that he was writing to. While the book of Acts does not record a visit to the Northern areas of Galatia, it’s possible that for time and space, they were just not recorded. The book of Galatians itself might help us with this issue.

The premise of the book is that people had arrived in Galatia teaching that the Gentile Christians must observe the laws of Moses to truly follow Christ. In so teaching they directly opposed what the Galatians had learned from Paul, and so these teachers had apparently tried to undermine Paul’s authority in the process. This is why at the beginning of the book of Galatians, Paul gives a defense of his ministry and apostleship. He gives his background of being called by Christ himself, and he records two trips to Jerusalem, one near the beginning of his ministry to visit Peter and James, brother of Jesus, and another one 14 years later with Barnabas and Titus as the result of a revelation.

These two trips seem to mesh well with trips mentioned also in Acts, a first trip to get his bearings as an apostle (Acts 9) and a second trip prompted by a prophecy of a famine given by a Christian named Agabus (Acts 11).

Galatians seems to have been written before the Jerusalem council that would see Paul travel to Jerusalem for a third time (Acts 15) and would authoritatively settle the issue of Gentiles and the law. This also makes sense of why Paul tells them of Peter’s wavering stance on Gentile Christians (Galatians 2), at this point, Christianity is still fledgling, and they haven’t yet gathered in Jerusalem to settle the matter. If this reconstruction is accurate, Galatians would be Paul’s first known letter and written around 48 or 49AD.

The book itself is a straightforward apologetic work, it is a defense of the gospel against these teachers claiming that the church must also follow the law. Paul gives a defense of his ministry (Galatians 1-2), reminds them all of why Christians are free of the law and what the law is for (Galatians 3-4), and then finally Paul gives a discourse on how, then, Christians should live (Galatians 5-6).

 

Corie Bobechko | December 8, 2021 – 3:00 PM EST