New Testament Study Helps:
Paul's Letter to the Galatians
Letter to the Churches in Galatia
1. Destination of the Epistle
From the epistle itself it is clear that the readers were called galatians (3:1) and were grouped in what is described as "the churches of Galatia" (1:2). But there has been a great deal of discussion over the identification of these galatians. Traditional opinion was never in any doubt. The geographical district of Galatia lay in the northern part of the Roman province of galatia, and it was assumed by all commentators until the nineteenth century that Paul established churches in the northern district and that this epistle was written to a group of communities there. Such evangelistic activity by Paul must have taken place on the second missionary journey after Paul had been forbidden by the Spirit to preach the gospel in Asia (Acts 16:6). If this is a true account of the founding of these galatian churches the epistle could not have been sent until Paul was on his third missionary journey. This view is known as the North galatian Theory. But the province which was called galatia covered a much wider area and included not only the geographical district of galatia in the north, but also the geographical districts of Lycaonia, Pisidia and part of Phrygia. The alternative theory which considers that this provincial district is meant by the term is known as the South Galatian Theory.
The date of the epistle depends on the decision regarding its destination (ie: south or north galatia). the North galatian theory necessitates a date late enough to allow for paul's visit to the northern area. It is often supposed that Galatians 4:13 ("I first preached the gospel to you") implies that two visits had been paid by Paul before the writing of this epistle, and on the northern theory this would mean that the second visit would need to be identified with Acts 18:23. At some subsequent date, prbably while he was at Ephesus, paul must have written the letter to the galatians.
- Dates according to the North Galatian theory The first proposed date is early in the Ephesian ministry. mainly on the strength of the word "quickly" in Galatians 1:6, it has been maintained that the letter must have rapidly followed Paul's visit. An alternative date is shortly after paul left Ephesus.
- Dates according to the South galatian theory. There are two main alternatives under this theory depending on the identification of Paul's second visit implied in Galatians 4:13. If the second visit is the one mentioned in Acts 16:6, the epistle must have been written after the Council of Jerusalem (probably a year or two after). If on the other hand the second visit is identified with that mentioned in Acts 14:21 when paul and barnabas revisited the southern galatian churches on their return journey to Antioch, the date may be before the Council and consequently about 49 AD.
- The view that Galatians 2:1-10 is the visit of Acts 11:30. This theory, which has received widespread support in recent times, is claimed to avoid all the difficulties of alternative views. It means that Galatians 1:2 may be interpreted literally of the second visit of the apostle to Jerusalem. Under this hypothesis, the following reconstruction is suggested:
- About a year after Paul and Barnabas began work at Antioch (Acts 11:26) the church decided to send them to Jerusalem with a relief fund for the Judean churches after hearing about the conditions from some itinerant prophets. During this visit Paul and barnabas had the opportunity to inform the leaders at Jerusalem about developments among the Gentiles.
- As Titus was with them, the question of Jewish-Gentile fellowship was brought into sharp focus, but Titus was not compelled to be circumcised (Gal 2:3).
- The Jerusalem apostles acknowledged Paul's credentials as apostle to the uncircumcision (Gal 2:7ff), but laid him under obligation to remember to poor. This was the very thing he had already done, as Galatians 2:10 makes clear.
- On their return to Antioch they encouraged Jewish and Gentile Christians to have fellowship together. Acts 11:19 ff certainly suggests that at an early stage there were Gentiles in the church, but no crisi seems to have arisen until the arrival of emmissaries from Jerusalem (Gal 2:12). Following the reservations of Gentile fellowship by James' (Hebrew) men, first Peter then Barnabas withdrew, but this position seemed to be so intolerable to Paul that he challenged and rebuked Peter before the whole church.
- Immediately following this incident the Antioch church commended Paul and Barnabas to their missionary work, which was destined to raise the same problems in a more acute form. Without doubt the Jerusalem leaders soon heard of the success of paul's missions among the Gentiles and the Jewish-Gentile question reached a crisi for the Judean Christians. They were quite prepared to acknowledge Paul's work among the Gentiles and were quite willing to concede that Gentiles could become Christians, but they could not tolerate the abolition of all distinction between Jew and Gentile. If Gentiles wished to have fellowship with Jewish Christians they must conform to Jewish scruples. They must be circumcised and must respect Jewish ritual requirements at meal times. The Jewish leaders consequently dispatched representatives to the galatian churches and to the sponsoring church at Antioch (Gal 1:7; Acts 15:1).
- The Antioch church, following the lead of paul and barnabas, recognized the necessity of discussing this burning question at top level, and sent Paul, Barnabas and others unnamed in Acts as delegates to the Jerusalem church, as a result of which a conference was convened (Acts 15).
- If this reconstruction is correct the epistle was written before the Council was convened, but it is not possible to be any more specific than that. The letter may have been written on Paul's way to Jerusalem for the Council. In any case, it would be dated 49-50AD and in that event would become the earliest of Paul's extant epistles.