An Introduction To Galatians

Thomas C. Urrey  |  Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 15 - Fall 1972

A key principle sounded by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount was that the righteousness of a disciple of the kingdom must exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 1:20). This principle became a vital part of the cutting edge of the unique message of Christianity in the first century world. The application of this principle resulted in Jesus’ death. The subsequent projection of it in the life of the New Testament church resulted in the creation of what has been described as the number one problem of the church prior to 70 A.D. That problem is the question of what constitutes one as righteous before God. Is it justification by faith or is it by faith plus a legalistic adherence to the Law of Moses? Is righteousness based upon a compliance with the law which required circumcision? This is the problem which Paul faced as he was called to become the apostle to the Gentiles.

It is around this crucial question that the letter to the Galatians revolves. In emotionally packed, straightforward language the apostle lashes out against the Judaizers who were following in his tracks turning new believers away from the true gospel, which had as its theme “salvation by faith in Jesus alone,” to a false “gospel” which claimed salvation by faith plus circumcision. The Judaizers were nominal Christians who accepted the fact that Jesus was the promised Messiah but they were requiring all Gentile converts to first become Jews by circumcision in order to become truly righteous before God.

If the Judaizers had gone unchecked Christianity would have become nothing more than a new branch of Judaism. However, the heart of the good news was the fact that in Jesus Christ righteousness was available to both Jew and Gentile on an equal basis. The message of Galatians echoes this message in resounding language.

It is no wonder then that Martin Luther said of the letter, “The epistle to the Galatians is my epistle. To it I am as it were in wedlock. It is my Katherine.”[1]William Hendriksen, “Galatians,” The New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1968), p. 3. So it became the battle cry of the Reformation. Its message was a message of liberty (not license) in Christ, freedom (not irresponsibility) under the direction of the Spirit of God, not under the tyranny of legalism. Its message so crucial to the New Testament church, so vital in the reformation under Luther, is also equally essential in our day.

Legalism in various forms always seeks to creep in to crystallize a growing life, or a growing church, or a growing denomination or institution, reducing a living relationship with God to an empty shell of rituals or religious habits. As Professor MacGorman says, “. . . legalism is this world’s religion.”[2]J. W. MacGonnan, “Galatians,” The Broadman Bible Commentary (Nash­ville: Broadman Press, 1971), p. 77. Men are always in danger of substituting the practicing of certain deeds or activities for the more real personal relationship with God.

Galatians strikes this problem a headlong blow. It is well dubbed “The Magna Carta of Spiritual Emancipation,” or “the Great Charter of Religious Freedom,” or “the Christian Declaration of Independence.”

In order to better understand and apply the message of Galatians to our needs today it is necessary to gain as much knowledge as possible concerning the historical situation out of which it grew. A correct interpretation of the letter in light of its message to its first recipients will furnish the key to its application in our own day. So we must examine the evidence to see who wrote the letter, to whom did the author write, where and when did the writing occur, and what occasioned the correspondence?


Of the traditionally accepted thirteen letters of Paul, four have been more or less universally accepted as authentically coming from the life of Paul the Apostle. These four have been consequently known by many scholars as “the impregnable quartet.” They are Galatians, Romans, I and II Corinthians.

The evidence for Pauline authorship is great both on the basis of internal evidence within the epistle and the external evidence derived from testimonies and scholarly investigation.

From the standpoint of internal evidence there are two illumining factors: First, Galatians 1:1 and 5:2 mention the name of the writer as being Paul. Secondly, the autobiographical section of the letter in 1:11-2:14 point to no one but Paul. Assuming the historicity of Acts, one learns that Paul was a Jew from Tarsus of Cilicia. He was trained to become a Rabbi and in his preparation to become a Pharisee he sat at the feet of Gamaliel, the great Jewish teacher called by many “the beauty of the Law.” As a Pharisee he achieved prominence in leadership because of his native ability and his unusual zeal. This unflagging zeal was manifested in his ruthless pursuit of Christians while he was bent on stamping out the people of the Way. However, while he was still known by his Jewish name, Saul, he met Jesus on the road to Damascus even though he was on that journey to destroy the Christian movement in the great Syrian capital. He was converted and commissioned by Ananias of Damascus to become the apostle to the Gentiles, a reality later verified by the Jerusalem Conference and by the fact of the unique result of his ministry. It was indeed his pursuit of this very commission that first brought Paul to the Galatian region bringing the gospel to both Jew and Gentile.

Paul was prepared for his ministry during his sojourn in Arabia (Galatians 1:17). Afterward he embarked upon a ministry which had as its theme the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. After laboring in his hometown for either eleven or fourteen years (Galatians 1:21-24) he entered upon a most significant work among the Gentiles of Antioch of Syria at the invitation of Barnabas.

As the gospel was received by the Gentiles in Antioch it became increasingly apparent that Christianity was indeed fulfilling the commission of Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20 and in Acts 1:8. The gospel was to be preached to all men.

Under the impact of this reality the church in Antioch looked beyond its borders to the Greco-Roman world to the west. The Holy Spirit impressed the church at Antioch to send Paul and Barnabas on a mission journey to bear the gospel to the world. This mission and the personal details of it in conjunction with the Acts account describe clearly the life of Paul the Apostle. The theology and language of the letter also well attest to the fact of Pauline authorship.

However, the external evidence is equally convincing that the author is Paul. This conviction is reflected in the Apostolic Fathers, the writings of the subapostolic age, the earliest canons of scripture, the works of the Apologists, even the testimony of the heretical writers like Marcion, and the use of Galatians by such early theologians as Iremeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian.[3]For a fuller treatment of the testimony of early church fathers see J. B. Lightfoot, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971), pp. 55-62.

Actually the only serious question as to Pauline authorship of Galatians was raised by the radical Dutch school of biblical criticism around 1792 and Bruno Bauer in 1850. This school of thought has not gained a great following. Even the radical Tubingen school in Germany has not questioned its genuineness, even though they have energetically attacked the historicity of Acts.

So it is generally true that of all Paul’s letters, the letter to the Galatians is the most strongly attested. It springs from his very life.


The identity of the recipients of Paul’s letter is clear from certain references in the letter. Galatians 3:1 specifically calls the readers “Galatians” and 1:2 describes them as “the churches of Galatia.”

But beyond this nominal identity the clarity quickly dissipates. If Paul had described these recipients further there would be a great deal less confusion in the investigation of the historical background of the letter. Since he did not we must attempt to sift through the evidence, meager as it is, and try to arrive at the most plausible solution for the sake of a better understanding of his message.

There are actually only two alternatives. One is normally termed the North Galatian theory and the other is the South Galatian theory. Had Paul said, “to the Galatians of Pessinus, Tavium and Ancyra,” it would then have been clear his recipients were residents of the territory of Galatia or ethnic Galatia which lay in the central part of Asia Minor north of the cities evangelized by Paul and Barnabas during the second leg of the first mission journey. Had he addressed them, “to the Galatians of Antioch in Pisidia, etc.,” then it would be clear that he was writing to the churches in South Galatia. Without these helpful descriptions, however, it will be necessary to examine the possibilities.

The major proponent of the North Galatian theory is J. B. Lightfoot.[4]J. B. Lightfoot, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971), pp. 18-35. For an insight into the views of others who hold this view see James Moffatt, Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament (Edinburg: T & T. Clark, 1918), pp. 90-101; Alvah Hover, The Epistle to the Galatians, American Commentary (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1887), p. 6; Willi Marxsen, Introduction to the New Testament, trans. by G. Buswell, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968), pp. 45-47; Paul Feine, Johannes Behm and Werner Georg Kummel, Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1966), pp. 191-193; G. G. Findlay, The Epistle to the Galatians, The Expositors Bible (New York: Armstrong Co., n.d.), pp. 811-925. According to this view the letter was written to the people occupying the area originally settled by the Gauls generally located along the central plateau of Asia Minor. The Greek name Galatia became attached to this large area after the invasion of a large number of Gauls or Celts in 278 B.C. As war was their trade and only means of subsistence they scoured the country far and wide until eventually they gained a permanent status and controlled the native Phrygian population. In 189 B.C. they were crushed by the Romans and thereafter were under their authority. Because of their loyalty to Rome and valor in military service more territory was given to the Gauls until they finally embraced Southern Phrygia and parts of Lycaonia and Pisidia and extended even to the range of Taurus. It was this large territory which fell to the Romans at the death of the last Galatian prince named Amyntas in 25 B.C.[5]Frederic Rendall, “The Epistle to the Galatians,” The Expositor’s Greek Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., n.d.), pp. 127- 128. Galatia then became an official Roman province including not only the large territory of geographical or ethnic Galatia lying to the north, but also the cities of Pisidia and Lycaonia lying to the south. For several reasons the North Galatianists believe the letter was addressed to the residents of the north country.

First, they rely on the strong evidence of early church tradition. Indeed it has been only during the last century that scholarship has turned away from this prevailing view. They justly ask that if early tradition is so weighty in the solution to many other interpretive questions why is it not to be given serious consideration in this matter? However, it may be answered by the South Galatianists that the Church Fathers made an error in judgment because when they were writing the province of Galatia had again been restricted to virtually its old dimensions so that for them the territory inhabited by the Gauls and the province of Galatia coincided.[6]William Hendriksen, “Galatians,” New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1921), p. 10.

Another evidence the North Galatianists set forth for their view is the well-known characteristics of the Gallic people which the North Galatianists feel are so well reflected in Paul’s letter. They are described by various sources as being inclined toward drunkenness, niggardliness, strife, vainglory, anger, impulsiveness, and especially fickleness. A casual reflection upon such passages as Galatians 5:19-26 and a review of the portrait of the quickness with which the readers turned from the true gospel depict such revealing traits in their temperament. But again it may be correctly asked if this is not really a portrait of the human race in general and the Greek world as a whole? Indeed in Lystra, for example, did not the inhabitants reflect just such fickleness as a trait of the people of South Galatia when they received Paul and Barnabas as angels of God and then so soon were led to be a party in Paul’s stoning (Acts 14:11-20)?

Also the North Galatianists find great difficulty in associating the account of Paul s reason for bringing the gospel to them set forth in Galatians 4: 13-14 with Luke’s account of Paul’s ministry in the cities of Antioch, Lyconium, Lystra, and Derbe. In Galatians Paul says it was some infirmity in his flesh, a physical ailment, which made it necessary for him to change his previously planned itinerary and turn aside into Galatia. However, Luke’s account in Acts 13-14 says nothing at all about an ailment of Paul when he and Barnabas visited the cities of the South. It may be answered to this argument, however, that whereas Paul gives several pertinent personal details about his ministry to stir the Galatians to remembrance of how they first received the gospel, Luke is giving an account of the mission of the New Testament church to the Gentiles. He is not so concerned with the missionaries’ physical maladies as such in his rapidly-moving, highly selective narrative. The difference therefore is not so much a contradiction as a simple difference in purpose between the two writers.

Still another view posited in favor of the North Galatian theory is the claim that the popular use of the term Galatia referred to territorial Galatia and not provincial Galatia. The people were not used to the provincial or official designation. This is reflected, they claim, also in Luke’s use. For example in Acts 13:13 Luke describes Perga as a city of Pamphylia; in 13:14 he describes Antioch as being in Pisidia, not Galatia; in 14:6 he describes the cities in Lycaonia. Luke does not use the official name so surely Paul did not either. But it may be said against this view that they overlook the glaring fact that Paul did indeed commonly use official provincial titles such as Achaia, Asia or Macedonia, and therefore to him Galatia probably meant the Roman province of Galatia. This is a clearly observable pattern of Paul in spite of the exceptions with reference to the geographic regions of Syria and Cilicia in Galatians 1:21.

Again it is argued by the North Galatianists that the letter depicts congregations without Jews, or at least practically no Jews. This conclusion is arrived at from a consideration of Galatians 5:2 and 6:12 which describes the readers as uncircumcised. Galatians 4:8-11 portrays them as converts from the Gentile world. Therefore they say this would relate so much better to the people of the North where Judaism had not become so thoroughly entrenched. Nevertheless it is natural that the Judaizers would have an undue influence as they followed Paul to the northern region because of the very f act they were not so well known.

Furthermore the North Galatianists point out that the churches in the cities of the South were from the first populated with Jews who became Christians (Acts 13:43; 14:1). Consequently Galatians could not be written to them.

In answer to this view it must be remembered that the major thrust of Acts is the reception of the gospel by the Gentiles. It was the work of God among the Gentiles on the first journey that was part of the occasion of the Jerusalem Conference of Acts 15. The letter to the Galatians certainly reflects the predominant Gentile traits of these new congregations, but the high degree of influence from the Judaizers is better understood in this presence of an existing influential Jewish population rather than in its absence.

One of the strongest arguments for the North Galatian theory is the one to which we now turn. It is argued that a correct interpretation of Acts 16:6; 18:23 and 19:1 requires a separate ministry of Paul in the North Galatian country. They say Acts 16:6 portrays Paul as going through Phrygia and the district of Galatia on the second journey after revisiting the cities of the south. It is maintained that two districts, not one, are indicated. This means the latter term could not be the provincial title since this included a part of the formerly mentioned district of Phrygia. Likewise Acts 18:23 must refer to the same itinerary as Paul began the third mission tour. Then Acts 19:1 makes reference to Paul’s trip through the “upper country” before coming to Ephesus. This must refer to North Galatia, say the North Galatianists. So if Paul in fact had two journeys through North Galatia it is to be assumed that he founded churches there since he indeed did make disciples there.

In answer to this argument it may be mentioned that a careful study of the grammar reveals that the better translation of both passages, 16:6 and 18:23, is “the region of Galatia and Phrygia.” It is a principle of Greek grammar, pointed out better than a century ago by Granville Sharp and subsequently known as “Sharp’s rule of the article,” that when two nouns are joined together by kai, if the first of the two nouns only has the article then the two nouns are to be understood as belonging to the same group.[7]H. E. Dana and J. R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1955), p. 147. This rule applied here would mean that both Galatia and Phrygia in both texts were understood by Luke to relate to the same basic region. The idea would then become, “the Phrygian region of the province of Galatia.”[8]W. M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1962), p. 179. If this translation is acceptable it would actually remove from the Acts account any record of a mission tour to the North. Even though some of the South Galatianists would tenaciously hold this view it is probable that most would at least leave open the possibility of a work by Paul and his companions in the North country on the way to Troas on the second journey which tour was repeated at the outset of the third journey.

Let us now turn to look at the second alternative. Even though several of the views of the South Galatianists have been briefly set forth in the context of a refutation of some of the North Galatianists’ views it is still helpful to outline them for the sake of contrast. The South Galatian theory certainly has taken the field in the present day especially in America. However, several continental scholars still hold to the older view as championed by Lightfoot. It was the momentous work of William Ramsay which has accounted for acceptance of most modern scholars even though there is a fairly wide divergence of opinions on the place and date of writing among these scholars.[9]W. M. Ramsay, A Historical Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1899), pp. 1-234. For other able presentations of the South Galatian theory see Ernest Dewitte Burton, Inter­ national Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1921), pp. xxi-xliv; A. H. McNeile, An Introduction to the Study of the New Testament (2nd ed., Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953), pp. 143-146; George Duncan, “The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians,” The Moffatt New Testament Commentary (New York: Harper and Bro., n.d.), pp. xviii-xxi; A. M. Hunter, Introducing the New Testament (2nd ed., Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1957), pp. 112-115; F. F. Bruce, “The Book of Acts,” The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), p., 300; Herman Ridderbos, “The Epistle of Paul to the Churches of Galatia,” The New International Com­mentary on the New Testament   (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 195:3), pp. 13-35; F. Rendall, “The Epistle to the Galatians,” The Expositor’s Greek New Testa­ment (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.), pp. 124-141; Alan Cole, “The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians,” Tyndale New Testament Commentary (Grand Rap­ids: Eerdmans, 1965), pp. 15-25.

The South Galatianists are convinced Paul wrote to the cities in the southern part of the Roman province of Galatia because there is such a graphic account in Acts 13-14 of the establishment and strengthening of churches on the first and second mission tour. On the basis of a different interpretation of Acts 16:6 and 18:28 they say there is no concrete evidence that Paul ever established churches in North Galatia. It is strange indeed that Luke would say so much about the work in the South and say little about the work in the North. In answer to this the North Galatianists point out Luke’s silence in other areas where it is certain that Paul worked such as in Syria, Dalmatia and in some aspects of his relationship with the Corinthians.

Also the South Galatianists point out the relative isolation of the North Galatian district. If indeed Paul came to the Galatians first because of a physical illness (Galatians 4:13) it is highly improbable he would have chosen the arduous route leading to the North. However, it is most plausible to see Paul moving from the lowlands of Pamphylia, where Luke records no missionary activity on the first journey, to the more healthy environment of Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe for a time of convalescence. It may even be that Mark left Paul in Perga of Pamphylia because of the physical trouble the missionaries were having there. The least one can say is that it is easier to imagine Paul laboring in the midst of an ailment in the cities of the South than it is to see him making such a trip to an out-of-the-way region over most difficult terrain on the second mission tour.

Another reason the South Galatianists are in disagreement with the North Galatianists is their question, “What other name could Paul have used to collectively describe the people to whom he wrote than the name ‘Galatians’?” The people from various geographical districts were to be included so the most inclusive title for them is the one he chose to use. Along with this is the evidence that Paul himself used “Galatia” in its provincial, official sense as he used Macedonia, Achaia and Asia.

In addition it is pointed out by the South Galatianists that Paul’s references to Barnabas three times in the letter (Galatians 2: 1, 9, 13) suggests that Barnabas was well known to the readers. This is certainly understandable if the letter was received by the people evangelized by Paul and Barnabas in their joint effort on the first journey. It is not understandable if the letter is addressed to the people of the North, where there is no record that Barnabas had even gone or was known by them. The explanation of this given by the North Galatianists does not remove the cogency of this argument. They say that Paul mentions Barnabas in I Corinthians 9:6 and there is no record of a visit by him in Corinth. Consequently Barnabas could have become well known at least by reputation in the North because indeed he was a major leader of the church both in Jerusalem earlier and in Antioch, the center of the Gentile mission, at a later time. However, it is needless to say that an argument based on silence is less weighty than one based upon a tangible record.

Another consideration set forth by the South Galatianists is the reference Luke records in Acts 20:4ff about the collection delegation and the representative places from which the collection came for the needy in Judea. Paul’s companions include Gaius from Derbe and Timothy from Lystra, both cities of South Galatia. No one is mentioned from the northern district. And it is clear from I Corinthians 16:1 that the churches of Galatia participated in this offering for the saints. Therefore it is at least reasonable to suppose that these churches were represented by these two men. An argument against the strength of this view is the fact that no mention is made of delegates specifically from Corinth or Philippi either and we know these churches participated. But even so the weight of probability is in favor of the South Galatian theory at this point.

Perhaps one of the strongest points in favor of the South Galatian theory is an examination of the incidental details of the letters in comparison with the Acts’ record of Paul’s ministry in the South. For example, Galatians 4:14 says Paul was received by the readers as “the messenger of God.” This may well reflect the experience of Acts 14:12 in Lystra where the native Lycaonians were even going to offer sacrifices to Paul, whom they identified as Mercury or Hermes, and to Barnabas, whom they identified as Zeus. Also the phrase “marks of the Lord Jesus” in Galatians 6:17 may reflect Paul’s stoning in Lystra recorded in Acts 14: 19.

Furthermore it is most evident that the main issue troubling the Galatians was the activity and claims of the Judaizers. These were Jewish Christians, in name at least, who were undermining the confidence of the Galatians in Paul and his message and were insisting that certain Jewish rituals be observed such as the rite of circumcision. They were attempting to make Jews out of the Gentile converts. A careful review of Paul’s ministry with Barnabas in Antioch among the Gentiles, the Acts’ account of the great response of the Gentiles on the first journey, followed by a report on how the gospel had indeed gone also to the Gentiles (Acts 14:27) reveals the distinct nature of Paul’s ministry as being to the Gentiles. But immediately following the report of Acts 14:27 there is the reaction of the Judaizers from Judea (Acts 15:1) who came to Antioch with the claim, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” It is against the background of this controversy that Galatians was written, so the South Galatianists assert that this historical situation makes the southern view more logical. While admitting the relative balance in the arguments for both the North and South Galatian view, Duncan, a South Galatianist, says it is because the South Galatian theory provides a more satisfactory exegesis of the epistle that he opts for it.[10]Frederic Rendall, “The Epistle to the Galatians,” The Expositor’s (Greek Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.), pp. 141-144. See also Wilham Hendriksen “Galatians” New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1968), pp. 18-20.

It is apparent that the evidence is of such a nature that no degree of finality can be achieved as to the question of destination. However, it does appear that the weight of evidence is in favor of the South Galatian theory.


Date and Place of Writing

The question of date largely hinges upon how one views the recipients. If the readers were of the northern district then a relatively late date is necessary. The letter could not have been written before Paul’s first visit in the North country during the second missionary tour and a certain amount of time had to elapse for the Judaizers to do their work and for Paul to hear of it in order to respond. And since two prior visits are implied in Galatians 4:13 it had to be written sometime between approximately 51-58 A.D. on the third mission journey.

For those who hold to the South Galatian theory the date could be much earlier, but it would not have to be. It could then have been written right after Paul’s first journey, as early as 48-49 A.D. A growing number of scholars believe this to be true. Or it could be as late as 57-58 A.D.

It will be well now to examine the representative possibilities as to date and place. The earliest date possible for Galatians requires one to be a South Galatianist. It could have been written by Paul soon after the first journey when Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch of Syria around 48-49 A.D. According to this view[11]For a representative portrait of this view see the work by F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), p. 300; Merrill C. Ten­ney, New Testament Survey (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), p. 267; A. M. Hunter, Introducing the New Testament ( 2nd ed., Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1957), p. 115; G. S. Duncan, “The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians,” The Moffatt New Testament Commentary (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, n.d.), p. xxvi ff. Paul visited the churches of Galatia first on the first journey and a second time on that same journey as he retraced his route from Derbe back to Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 14:21-23). Upon his arrival in Antioch of Syria and report to the congregation it is conjectured that word came to Paul about the activity of the Judaizers that was very much like that described in Acts 15:1. So he wrote the letter to the Galatians either from Antioch or somewhere between Antioch and Jerusalem, perhaps in Jerusalem, delivering to the Galatians the same arguments he was planning to use at the Jerusalem Council recorded in Acts 15.

This view answers the crucial question about Paul’s failure to mention the results of the Jerusalem Conference to the Galatians if the letter came after the Conference. It also softens the blow of Paul’s encounter with Peter in Antioch recorded in Galatians 2:11-17. According to this view Peter was caught up in the Judaizer controversy in Antioch which occasioned the council in Jerusalem. Certainly Peter would not have defended Paul in Jerusalem and turned right around after the conference and hypocrited himself in Antioch.

But in order to defend this extremely early date it is necessary to rule out the possibility that Paul’s visit to Jerusalem recorded in Galatians 2:1-10 is to be identified with the Acts 15 record of the Jerusalem Council. There have been various explanations. They point out the differences in the two accounts and generally conclude that the so-called famine visit of Paul and Barnabas of Acts 11:30 must be associated with Galatians. However, a close examination of the setting of these two passages makes it most difficult to correlate them. It is this serious difficulty which makes it extremely unlikely that Paul did indeed write Galatians that early. Along with this comparison, a further comparison of Acts 15 with Galatians 2, even with the differences, makes it almost certain that the conference was a matter of history when Paul wrote Galatians.[12]Frederic Rendall, “The Epistle to the Galatians,” The Expositor’s (Greek Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.), pp. 141-144. See also Wilham Hendriksen “Galatians” New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1968), pp. 18-20.

In defense of the early date the question is often asked, “If Paul wrote after the council then why did he note quote the decision of the council as decisive evidence against the Judaizers?” This is indeed a serious question but it is not without an answer. Note these progressively related events: When Paul returned to Antioch something made him part with Barnabas. It could have been nothing more than Barnabas position concerning John Mark. It is possible, however, that when Paul mentions Barnabas’ wavering after the bad example of Peter (Galatians 2: 13) he could have been reflecting a serious problem which resulted in Paul’s choosing different partner for the second journey. If this is a valid conjecture then Peter also was involved in it and it would indicate the Judaizer problem was not settled once for all by the Jerusalem Conference. Indeed the Judaizers simply changed their tactics and launched out with a different methodology such as withdrawing fellowship from Gentile believers.

It is also noteworthy that when Paul began the second journey by going back to the cities of South Galatia one of his important activities was a careful report on the decision of the Jerusalem Conference. So the Galatians had the results of the Conference well in mind when the Judaizers followed Paul and began to undermine his authority. Perhaps they questioned the authority and validity of the Jerusalem Conference itself even using Paul’s requirement to have Timothy circumcised as exhibit A of Paul’s inconsistency (Acts 16:3). Therefore, when Paul later heard of the Judaizers work in Galatia it is not surprising that he made no reference to the authority of a council. They would not have recognized it anyway. So he appeals to the basis of all authority, God in Christ as revealed in the true gospel of Jesus Christ.

Another view would also make Galatians the earliest of Paul’s letters but would date it after the Jerusalem Conference. There is a sizeable group of scholars who date Galatians around 50-52 A.D. from Corinth on Paul’s second journey but place its composition before the arrival of Timothy and Silas from Macedonia. It would then come before I Thessalonians.[13]For a discussion of this view with its various modifications see William Hendriksen, “Galatians,” New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1953), pp. 31-32; Floyd V. Filson, Opening the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1952), p. 107. According to this view Paul received word from the Galatians upon his arrival in Corinth around 50 A.D. on the second journey. He was discouraged not only by the absence of his two companions, Timothy and Silas, by his bad experience in Athens, but also perhaps by this word from Galatia. So he wrote the letter to the Galatians without the accompaniment of his co-laborers and sent it to the Galatians with every intent to follow the letter as soon as possible.

For the more traditional dating for those who hold to the South Galatian theory we turn now to the view of William Ramsay.[14]W. M. Ramsay, A Historical Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1899), pp. 189-192. According to this view Galatians was written upon Paul’s return to Antioch at the end of the second journey around 53 A.D. It is conjectured that when Paul left Corinth on the way to Ephesus on the second journey he either sent Timothy to Galatia by way of Macedonia or he sent him from Ephesus on to Galatia while Paul went up to Jerusalem before returning to Antioch. When Timothy arrived in his native land he immediately encountered the bad situation caused by, the Judaizers and quickly moved on to Antioch where he met Paul. When Paul heard how quickly the Galatians had been turned aside from the true gospel by the Judaizers, especially since he had delivered to them the result of the Jerusalem Conference on the first part of the journey he had just completed, he was deeply moved and immediately wrote the emotionally packed letter with the intent to follow it as soon as he had time to take care of necessary affairs in Antioch. This view is fraught with less problems than any of the other views and it appears to be the best solution.

We now turn to look at the possible dates espoused by the North Galatianists even though it is not impossible to hold the South Galatian theory and still posit a later date.

J. B. Lightfoot made quite a case for the probability that Paul’s writings should be grouped into various groups because of the similarity of theological content and treatment of materials. This is one of the major reasons for holding to a relatively late date for Galatians because it is so similar to Romans, as well as to I and II Corinthians, which are dated in the period from 54-58 A.D.

Some scholars[15]For an exposition of this view see Ernest De Witte Burton, “A Critical  and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians,” The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1921), pp. xxi-xliv, and Paul Feine, Johannes Behm, and Werner George Kummel, Introduction to the New Testament ( Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1965 ), pp. 197-198. suggest that Paul wrote Galatians just before I Corinthians soon after his arrival in Ephesus on the third missionary journey about 54 A.D. They put emphasis on the fact that Paul expresses amazement over their being so “quickly” turned away from the true gospel (Galatians 1:6). They say this could be interpreted best to mean an abrupt or immediate turnabout. Therefore it is supposed that as soon as Paul arrived in Ephesus to begin his three-year ministry there word came to him about the quick work of the Judaizers so he responded with a like kind of quickness in getting a letter off to them on the matter.

Similar to this view is the theory voiced by J. B. Lightfoot,[16]J. B. Lightfoot, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971 ), p. 40. A. T. Robertson,[17]A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1933), p. 273. and Alvah Hovey.[18]Alvah Hovey, “The Epistle to the Galatians,” American Commentary (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1887), p. 10. According to this view Paul wrote Galatians either on the way through Macedonia to Corinth or at Corinth on the third journey around 57-58 A.D. The majority of scholars who hold this view in various forms agree that in all probability Galatians precedes Romans. Their content is so very similar, but differs as a rough model compared to the finished product. Galatians is comparatively rough when compared to the much more smooth, rather emotionally controlled letter to the Romans. It is this similarity that comprises the major argument for dating Galatians this late.



Having sifted through the evidence and having weighed the major points of the arguments in the balance it appears that an acceptable summary of the data is to say that Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians from Antioch at the close of the second missionary journey about 53 A.D. It was addressed primarily to the churches in the cities of the Southern portion of the Roman province of Asia.

Galatians was occasioned by the news received by Paul that the Judaizers were undermining the message of the gospel and questioning the authority of Paul’s ministry. From an examination of the text of his letter it appears the Judaizers were leveling three charges against Paul and his doctrine.

First, they were claiming that Paul was not in fact a real apostle. He was not to be heard on a par with such men as Peter or John. Therefore, in the first two chapters Paul defends his apostleship as being from God by direct revelation and not from men or based on man’s authority.

Secondly, they were claiming Paul’s gospel was not the true gospel. It was not true to the antecedents of the Christian faith. Therefore, in chapters three and four Paul sets forth his arguments as to why his gospel was indeed true to the tenets of the Old Testament covenant as fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Finally, it is apparent the Judaizers were claiming that Paul’s doctrine of freedom from the bondage of the Law would result in moral laxity. To remove the legalism of the law would amount to removing all moral restraint from man. The result would be devastating morally. So in chapters five and six Paul portrays the liberty of the Spirit-led life as being a liberty without license, a freedom without irresponsibility. He points out that we are much more obligated to a life of real righteousness under the freedom of the Spirit than we could ever achieve under the tyranny of the Law.

The letter concludes with the readers’ attention being focused upon Paul’s real ground of boasting, the cross of Jesus Christ. He relates his own testimony of suffering for Christ as evidence of the veracity of his life and message. May we follow his example.


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