Jerry C. Brewer
Date of Writing
The apostle Paul (1:1; 5:2). This was the unanimous view of the early church, and even those modern critics who challenge the authorship of many of the New Testament books concede that Galatians is truly Pauline.
Date of Writing
Galatians is affected by one’s view of whether the churches of Galatia were located in the north central part of Asia Minor (ethnic Galatia), or in the south central part (the Roman province of Galatia). The “North Galatia Theory” maintains that the churches were in the north, and that Paul had not been there until the beginning of his third preaching tour (54-55 A.D.; cf. Ac 18:23). This would require that Paul wrote his epistle sometime toward the end of that journey, or afterward (i.e., around 57-58 A.D. or later).
We also believe that the meeting described in Gal. 2:1-10 took place during the “Jerusalem Conference” related in Acts 15: 1-29. This view opens several possibilities for the place and time of writing:
1) Corinth, in the period of Acts 18:1-17
2) Antioch, in the period of Acts 18:22
3) Ephesus, in the period covered by Acts 19:1-41
4) Macedonia or Achaia in the period of Acts 20:1-3
With such uncertainty one cannot be dogmatic, but in view of Paul’s lengthy stay in Ephesus, that would seem a likely possibility, and the date would be approximately A.D. 55.
The Province of Galatia
The region of Galatia was where Paul preached on his first evangelistic tour. On that trip, he preached and met opposition from Jews in the cities of Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium (Acts 13-14). Galatia was populated by a Celtic people, known as Gauls, who had invaded Greece from the North in about 300 B.C. After a time of independence in which the Roman government recognized their kings, they became a part of the Roman empire during the reign of Augustus Caesar. In Paul’s day, the Roman province of Galatia included the old kingdom of Galatia proper, to the north, and also parts of Lycaonia, Pisidia, and Phrygia, which adjoined to the south. Since the letter clearly implies that the churches were all founded in the same general period, Paul could not have been writing to both areas. It is now generally agreed that he was writing to the Southern Galatian churches; Lystra, Derbe, Iconium, Pisidian Antioch, and others in the vicinity (Martin, p. 452).
On his second trip (49-52 A.D.), Paul and Silas visited them again (Acts 16:1-5). It wasn’t long, however, before some Jewish Christians came in and began teaching that Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses (similar to what happened at Antioch of Syria, cf. Acts 15:1). In an effort to persuade the Galatians, it appears that their the tactic was to discredit Paul as an apostle, challenge his concept of the gospel of Christ, and charge his doctrine with leading to loose living.
The People of Galatia
The Galatians are described as “susceptible of quick impressions and sudden changes with a fickleness equal to their courage and enthusiasm, and a constant liability to that disunion which is the fruit of excessive vanity” (Conybeare & Howson, 212). These characteristics are seen in Paul’s words to them. They had readily received the gospel and would have “plucked out their eyes” for him, but then “so soon removed” from that gospel at the behest of false teachers. They had begun to “run well,” but then were “hindered” and “bewitched,” and were as anxious to “bite and devour” one another as they were to exchange the gospel for another which was “not another.”
The readiness of the Galatians to exchange allegiances was seen early in their history when they came southward. Conybeare and Howson say, “They hired themselves out as mercenary soldiers. They were the royal guards of the kings of Syria and the Mamelukes of the Ptolemies in Egypt” (p. 213). This propensity was apparently also manifested in their fickleness regarding the gospel and their readiness to listen to false teachers who called Paul’s apostolic authority into question. Of one quick to change without considering solid evidence, it has been said that, “His belief is whatever he reads last.” That seems to be the case with the people of Galatia, or the Gauls.
For the ‘Galatia’ of the New Testament was really the ‘Gaul’ of the East. The ‘Epistle to the Galatians’ would more literally and more correctly be called the ‘Epistle to the Gauls.’ When Livy, in his account of the Roman campaigns in Galatia, speaks of its inhabitants, he always calls them ‘Gauls.’ When the Greek historians speak of the inhabitants of ancient France the word they use is ‘Galatians.’ The two terms are merely the Greek and Latin forms of the same ‘barbarian’ appellation. (Conybeare & Howson, 212).
These fickle barbarians had a propensity for vacillation and sudden changes of their minds. That was graphically illustrated in their reception of Paul and Barnabas as gods after they healed a crippled man at Lystra (Acts 14:8-18), but when Jews from Antioch and Iconium who opposed Paul’s preaching came to Lystra these Galatians, who had earlier hailed Paul as a deity, were persuaded to stone him and leave him for dead (Acts 14:19). It was that kind of vacillating nature which could easily be turned from the gospel, as Paul addressed in his Galatian epistle. It is our conviction that this epistle was written to those churches which were established on the first preaching tour of Paul and Barnabas through the cities of Attalia, Perga, Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Derbe and Lystra in the southern region of Galatia, as recorded by the inspired Luke in Acts 13 and 14.
The churches in Galatia were being influenced by those who would “pervert the gospel of Christ” (1:6-7; cf. 3:1). Known as “Judaizing teachers”, these individuals taught that Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses (cf. Acts 15:1). Paul recognized that this doctrine would jeopardize the salvation of those souls who accepted it (cf. 5:4). Because the enemies of the true gospel were trying to support their case by undermining Paul’s authority as an apostle of Christ, it was necessary for him to verify that he was truly an apostle “not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father” (1:1).
During his first preaching tour (46-48 A.D.), Paul, along with Barnabas, had the opportunity to establish several churches in the Roman province of Galatia (Acts 13:14-14:23). On his second trip (49-52 A.D.), Paul and Silas visited them again (Acts 16:1-5). It wasn’t long, however, before some Jewish Christians entered and began teaching that Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses (similar to what happened at Antioch of Syria, cf. Acts 15:1). In an effort to persuade the Galatians, it appears the tactic was to discredit Paul as an apostle, challenge his concept of the gospel of Christ, and charge his doctrine with leading to loose living. Thus, the first thing Paul had to do was to establish the truth of his apostleship which the Judaizers denied and he does that in the first two chapters. If he was not an apostle, as they alleged, then his word carried no authority.
The remainder of the book is his argument that the Gospel alone—without any of the rites of the abrogated Law of Moses—is the sole means of salvation.
Conybeare, W. J. & Howson, J. S., The Life And Epistles Of The Apostle Paul, n.d., Thomas Y. Crowell Co., NY .
Martin, William C., These Were God’s People, A Bible History, 1966, The Southwestern Co., Nashville.