Background

Galatians – Living by Grace

Background

a. Authorship

The writer is identified in the text as “Paul, an apostle” (1:1).

The scholars have never doubted the genuineness of Galatians as Pauline Epistle. The early church held the unanimous view of its Pauline origin, so are the modern critics who challenge the authorship of many of the New Testament books.

Its origin is also confirmed by several considerations such as literary style, doctrinal content and historical background etc. Some of the internal evidences are the personal references in Galatians 1:1 and 5:2; and the final greeting written in his own hand in Galatians 6:11.

b. Original Readers

The text identified the original readers as “the churches of Galatia” (1:2, 3:1).

c. Who were the Galatians?

The people who first became known as Galatians came from barbarian tribal stock known as Celts, one branch of which Julius Caesar knew in France as the Gauls. Some of them had invaded Macedonia and later Asia Minor in the 3rd century BC. Gauls were distinguished from the West-European Gauls by the term “Gallo-Graecians”, from which the name “Galatians” comes.

Initially the tribes were very successful. However, in 230 BC, the Gauls were defeated by Attalus I, King of Pergamum, and were increasing confined into small territory in the north. This region was the 1st to become known as Galatia. Its principle cities were Ancyra, Pessinus and Tavium.

 

Subsequently, under the Romans, the territory of Galatia was incorporated into a much larger Roman province to which the old ethnic name, Galatia was extended. Cities such as Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Derbe and Lystra – cities which Paul visited on his 1st missionary journey – belonged to it.

Where were the “churches of Galatia”? There are 2 different views held as follows:

(a) The Northern Galatia Theory – the epistle was addressed to the ethnic Galatia, churches of northern cities, supposedly founded on Paul’s 2 nd missionary journey when he passed through the northern districts of Asia Minor;

(b) The Southern Galatia Theory – epistle was sent to churches founded on Paul’s 1st missionary journey to such southern cities as Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe.

Antioch in Pisidian: Located near foothills of
the Sultan mountains, main streets of the city
were paved and bordered by colonnades.

The Northern Galatia Theory is not as popular as the Southern Galatia Theory. In fact, there is very little evidence that Paul ever visited ethnic Galatia, whereas there is ample evidence that he visited the south area of the province of Galatia and planted churches there. Furthermore, the repeated mention of Barnabas, Paul’s co-worker in the establishment of the South Galatian congregation without further elaboration in the Book of Galatians seems to suppose their acquaintance with him.

Pauls’s contact with Galatia during his missionary journeys:

(a)  First Missionary – Acts 13:1-14:28. He visited 4 Galatian cities in the south: Pisidian AntiochIconiumLystra and Derbe, together with Barnabas.

(b)  Second Missionary – Acts 15:36-18:22. Paul and Silas visited the above cities again (Acts 16:1-5) and Timothy was added to the missionary party. Paul may have visited the northern part of Galatia on his journey from Pisidian Antioch to Troas (Acts 16:6).

(c) Third Missionary – Acts 18:23 – 21:16. Paul could have visited the northern cities while traveling from Pisdian Antioch to Ephesus (Acts 18:23).

d. Date Written

Answer to the date when the epistle was written depends very much upon the answer to the epistle’s destination.

If we take the Northern Galatia Theory, the epistle was probably written between 54 to 56 AD at either Ephesus or Macedonia. It would be a date subsequent to events of Acts 18:23.

If we take the Southern Galatia Theory, the epistle was probably written after Paul’s 1st missionary journey and before the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15:1-22. If the Jerusaleum Council had already been convened, Paul would no doubt have referred to its decision in his letter, since both the Council and the letter addressed the same problem, ie. circumcision for Gentile Christians. As the Jerusalem was held in AD 49, Paul could have written the epistle in AD 48.