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An Introduction To The Book Of Galatians

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I. AUTHOR: The Apostle Paul

Externally and internally the evidence has been overwhelming in critical scholarship in favor of Pauline authorship of this letter.1 Galatians is the standard by which Paul’s other epistles are often measured.

Only the Dutch school of W. C. van Manen2 has questioned Pauline authorship of Galatians, and Bruce appropriately identifies this as, “a critical aberration in the history of NT Study.”3

II. DESTINATION: Those churches who lived in the larger Roman provincial region of Galatia extending south

A. Northern Theory:

1. Lightfoot identifies these people with the Celts or Gauls who moved across Italy, Macedonia, and Thessaly to the coast of the Hellespont across the sea into Asia Minor where they put the whole continent west of Taurus under tribute only to be defeated by Pergamene, placed into a strip of land 200 miles long from the northeast to the northwest and to establish three cities: Tavium, Ancyra, and Pessinus4

While this understanding of the migration of the people is agreed upon by all, it does not necessitate that those in the north were the recipients because the northern region of Galatia became subjected to Rome under the campaign of Consul Manlius in 189 BC, and 25 BC became a Roman province with the death of Amyntos under Augustus including the above ethnographic region of Galatia, but also Lycaonea, Isauria, Southeast Phyrgia, and a portion of Pisidia5

2. It has been unanimously held to be the northern region until the eighteenth century6

3. Luke’s normal practice is to use geographical expressions7

4. Luke does not refer to those living in the cities of Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch as Galatians.

Luke uses geographical titles (Acts 13:13,14; 14:6). Therefore, Galatia in Acts 16:6; 18:23 is not political8

5. The phrase τὴν φρυγίαν καὶ Γαλατικὴν χώραν (the Phrygian and Galatian region) in Acts 16:6 and 18:21 refers to two districts and not one9

6. The characteristics of Paul’s readers are those seen in the Gallic peoples10

7. The participle κωλυθέντες in Acts 16:6 insists that Paul went into north Galatia to preach11

B. Southern Theory:

1. Even though there was a unanimous northern position until the eighteenth century, it may be explained by a common error made by the church fathers which was continued by the commentators

Bruce points out that in AD 37 Lycaonia Galatia was detached and united with Cilicia and Isaurica to form an enlarged province of Cilicia, and in 297 the remainder of south Galatia, with some adjoining territories, became a new province of Pisidia with the Pisidean Antioch as its capital and Iconium as its second city12

By this action the province of Galatia was reduced once again to north Galatia. Therefore, when the church fathers read of the churches of Galatia, they would have naturally thought of the Galatia of their day--north Galatia

2. It is grammatically argued that the absence of the article in the phrase τὴν φρυγίαν καὶ Γαλατικὴν χώραν in Acts 16:6 and 18:23 causes the anartherous terms to be adjectives and not nouns thus reading, “The Phrygian and Galtic region.”13

3. Bruce demonstrates that geographical descriptions were added with provincial ones such as Pontus Galaticus14 thereby demonstrating that Luke may have modified the provincial term in a geographical manner with φρυγὶαν thereby making a more geographical statement which supports Paul’s movement in the southern area of provincial Galatia

4. The lack of information in the Bible about any north Galatian churches, especially in light of the mention of south Galatian churches in Acts 13--14 supports a southern theory

5. The north Galatian area was isolated, and since Paul was sick when he went there (Gal. 4), it is unlikely that he would have gone three hundred miles to the north

Also, Paul concentrated in his journeys on the main roads and centers of communication in the Roman provinces, and until AD 292 there was no main road to north Galatia15

6. Paul usually used provincial titles as he pitted churches of one Roman province against another. This would make 1 Corinthians 16:1 a provincial use of Galatia16

7. “Galatians” was the best term to use to describe the people of the southern districts since it included all without ethnical distinctions17

8. Even though the participle (κωλυθέντες) in Acts 16:6 forces Paul to go north, it does not necessitate that they go as far as northern Galatia. There were other routes18

9. There are other arguments such as Paul’s mentioning of Barnabas as one they should have known (Gal. 2), and the fact that none of Paul’s traveling companions in Acts 20:4ff are from north Galatia, which support a southern theory (but these are weaker arguments)

C. Conclusion:

Although the evidence is not definitive, the clear references in Acts to the churches in south Galatia, Paul’s use of provincial titles, and an acceptable harmonization of Luke’s geographical terms with Acts 16:6 and 18:23 cause this writer to consider the churches of south Galatia to be the recipients of Paul’s epistle

III. DATE: AD 49-50

A. Since the northern theory is not being considered as an option, the late date of the epistle will not be addressed19

B. However, within the sphere of the southern theory, there are two options for dating the letter: (1) after the Jerusalem council, and (2) before the Jerusalem council

1. After the Jerusalem Council:

Although this is a viable option, a problem arises in placing Galatians 2:1-10 with Acts 15 because Paul only mentions two visits to Jerusalem in Galatians (1:18; 2:1) while Acts records three (Acts 9:26; 11:30; 15:4). Such an inconsistency would completely invalidate Paul’s argument in Galatians, and therefore, cancels this option for a later date20

2. Before the Jerusalem Council:

a. There are also problems with placing Galatians 2:1-10 with Acts 11:30:

1) There are no apostles mentioned in Acts 11:30 as in Galatians 2

2) Titus does not fit will in Acts 11:30; he actually fits better with Acts 15

However, these are not as major as the above problem with Acts 15

b. There is good support for placing Galatians 2:1-10 with Acts 11:30:

1) The apostolic decree of Acts 15:22 is not mentioned in Galatians 2:1-10

2) Paul could not have omitted the famine visit as is asserted by some who hold to the Acts 15 view because his argument depends on accuracy

3) Luke does not need to be charged with error as some do to harmonize this with Acts 1521

4) In Galatians 2:1-10 the meeting with Paul and Barnabas took place with leaders of the Jerusalem church whereas in Acts 15:1-35 the meeting takes place before an assembled church

5) Peter’s actions in Galatians 2:11ff are less likely after Acts 15 than before it.

C. Conclusion:

Although one cannot be dogmatic, it seems that the earlier date has the fewest major problems. Therefore, the epistle should be dated before the Jerusalem council (c. AD 49-50)

IV. OCCASION AND PURPOSES FOR THE LETTER

A. The gospel message of the Apostle Paul (that the Christian life began and continued by the grace of God through the faith of His people) was under attack by Judaizers22 who taught that the Mosaic Law23 was still a necessary standard for obedience24

B. Although Paul does spend considerable time in Galatians defending his apostleship, this is not the primary design of the epistle

Paul defends his apostleship in order to exhort the believers in Galatia to continue to adhere to the true gospel which not only includes justification by faith, but also sanctification by faith.25 He defends his personal life and his theology as a means of defending his gospel message to the Galatians


1 Donald K. Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, p. 468; F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians, pp. 1-2.

2 Encyclopaedia Biblica, s.v. “Paul”. §§ 1-3, 33-51; “A Wave of Hypercriticism” Expository Times 9 (1897-98): 205-211.

3 Bruce, Galatians, p. 1.

4 J. B. Lightfoot, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians, pp. 5-7.

5 Ibid., p. 7.

6 James Montgomery Boice, “Galatians”, in EBC, 10:412.

7 Lightfoot, Galatians, p. 20.

8 Boice, “Galatians,” 10:416.

9 James Moffatt, An Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament, p. 93.

10 Lightfoot, Galatians, p. 4.

11 Moffatt, Introduction, pp. 93-95.

12 Bruce, Galatians, p. 6.

13 Ibid., 13.

14 Ibid., p. 5.

15 Ibid., 9.

16 Ernest DeWitt Burton, The Epistle to the Galatians, ICC, p. xxv.

17 Colin J. Hemer, “Acts and Galatians Reconsidered,” Themelios 2:3 (May 1977): 84.

18 Bruce, Galatians, 257-258.

19 For further discussion see Guthrie, Introduction, pp. 457-458.

20 Bruce, Introduction, pp. 295-296.

21 Guthrie, Introduction, p. 459.

22 The identity of these Judaizers is difficult to pinpoint. In Galatians Paul clearly considers them not to be part of the church (4:21-31; 5:12). In the book of Acts there may have been some believers among their number (Acts 15:5). In any case, they were Jewish and thought that the code of Moses should be followed by believers in Jesus.

23 The Mosaic Law may well be subdivided into three categories: Promise, Ethic, and Code. One must always be careful to grasp the aspect of the Law which is being emphasized when the writers of Scripture address it. In Galatians Paul is not concerned about the imposition of the moral Law of Moses (Gal. 5:13-14ff), and he recognizes the fulfillment of promise through Jesus (3). He himself will encourage the Galatians to obey the Law of Love. Paul’s concern is with the imposition of the code of the Law upon the Galatians (Gal. 2:11-21; 3:1-5; 4:9-10; 5:2-6,12).

24 The problem seems to have been two-sided. The Judaizers were concerned that Paul was not requiring the Gentiles to obey the code of Moses (Acts 15:5), and that Paul was encouraging Jews to cease their following of the code of Moses (Acts 21:21). Although Acts 21 may seem to be anachronistic to a discussion of Galatians, it is apparent through the book of Acts that Paul is not against Jews practicing Judaism (Acts 16:3; 18:18; 21:26), or against Gentiles making concessions in order to reach the Jews (Acts 15:22-35; 16:4; 21:25). However, Paul is against the imposition of the Law (code) of Moses upon Gentiles (or Jews) for the sake of their justification or their sanctification (Gal. 2:3, 11-21; 3:2-5).

25 As Dr. Toussaint often said in the classes of this student, “The method of justification determines the method of sanctification.”

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines