Background of Galatians
rev. by Kristofer Phan Coffman (03/2023)
To gather from his letter, PaulA Christian missionary who once persecuted the church More had founded the Galatian churches somewhat by accident, when illness overtook him during travels through Asia Minor, and the Galatians welcomed him and nursed him back to health (4:13-16). They also welcomed with enthusiasm his message that in the cross of Christ they were liberated from the demonic powers of this world and became adopted children of God. Sometime after Paul’s departure, other preachers apparently arrived with a different message. They argued that Paul’s version of the gospel was deficient, asserting that according to the Jewish Scriptures the promises of God belong to the children of AbrahamGod promised that Abraham would become the father of a great nation, receive a land, and bring blessing to all nations. More and that one becomes a child of Abraham through circumcisionCircumcision is an act of cutting off part of a male (or female) sex organ for religious or health reasons. In the Bible circumcision was performed on males to indicate inclusion into the Jewish religious community. Some church calendars commemorate January 1 as the Circumcision… More. Notice of this controversy within the Galatian churches came to Paul, and he was compelled to write with some urgency and passionPassion is the theological term used to describe Jesus’ suffering prior to and including his crucifixion. The Passion Narrative (the portions of the Gospels that tell of the Last Supper, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus) are often read in church during Holy Week. More (1:6; 4:20; 5:12) to reassert the integrity of his commission as an apostleDerived from a Greek word meaning “one who is sent,” an apostle is a person who embraces and advocates another person’s idea or beliefs. At the beginning of his ministry Jesus called twelve apostles to follow and serve him. Paul became an apostle of Jesus… More and of the gospel that he preached. It is faith in Christ that makes one right with God, and it is the promise of God in the cross of Christ and not the doing of certain works, such as circumcision, that makes one a child of God with Abraham. Those who assert the necessity of circumcision have “severed” themselves from the graceGrace is the unmerited gift of God’s love and acceptance. In Martin Luther’s favorite expression from the Apostle Paul, we are saved by grace through faith, which means that God showers grace upon us even though we do not deserve it. More of Christ.
The letter’s address to “the churches of Galatia” (1:2) implies a number of communities, but interpreters of the letter have disagreed over these churches’ location. According to the “south Galatia” theory, Paul refers to a territory reorganized by the Romans as a province including the original kingdom of the Galatians to the north. This theory assumes that these congregations were founded during Paul’s so-called “first missionary journey” (compare Acts 13-14) and has the advantage of harmonizing the letter with the Acts account. According to a competing “north Galatia” theory, Paul writes to churches located in the original territory of Galatia. Those favoring this theory note other discrepancies between the narrative of Acts and Paul’s own letters and point to the fact that Paul’s use of the ethnic term “Galatians” for these people would fit better with a more traditional regional identity. The majority of scholars support this north Galatian theory.
Opinions about the location of these churches also have implications for the dating of the letter. Those who favor the south Galatia theory tend to date it early among Paul’s surviving writings, assuming that the churches’ founding is to be associated with Paul’s first missionary journey. Those, however, who support the north Galatia theory assume that the founding is associated with another journey through Asia Minor and accordingly date the letter later, toward the middle of Paul’s letters and thus around 55 C.E.