Who wrote the Letter?
The opening of the letter gives us the author’s name—Paul, the Apostle (Gal 1:1 CSB). The ending of the letter also shows us that Paul wrote this letter with his own hands: “[l]ook at what large letters I use as I write to you in my own handwriting” (Gal 6:11 CSB). However, since this is our first look at a letter of Paul’s, we are forced to ask just who he is?
Paul tells his audience, in this letter, that he “intensely persecuted God’s church and tried to destroy it” (Gal 1:13 CSB). Paul was a Jew among Jews, if anyone was to enter heaven with their self-righteousness, it would have been Paul (Gal 1:14 CSB). Eventually, God called Paul out from his sinful life through the grace of Christ to become the Apostle to the Gentiles (Gal. 1:15-16a CSB). However, there is more to know of the Apostle Paul.
According to Gerd Theissen (2003, 50), in his New Testament introduction, Paul was a Diaspora Jew (a Jew who was not from Palestine or Jerusalem) from the city of Tarsus, in Cilicia, and had studied in Jerusalem which caused him to become “a Jewish fundamentalist.” However, according to Theissen (2003, 50-53), Paul is not the author of the Christian religion (of which I would agree), but that he was merely a liberal Jew who wanted to open up Judaism to encompass everyone—Jew and Gentile together. Another set of liberal scholars, Bruce Chilton and Deirdre Good (2011), in their introduction to the New Testament, state that:
Paul wove his devotion to Israel together with the Stoic philosophy of the Hellenistic world, a school of thought that searched for a single, rational principle underneath the world of nature as well as human society. On that basis, Paul framed a new perspective on the meaning of Jesus as the exemplar and the hope of all humanity…Paul made following Jesus into a radically new and powerful religious movementn (55).
Paul’s hometown of Tarsus was a wealthy one, of which some scholars hold that Paul came from a well-off family, this is due to his citizenship and being able to study Torah in Jerusalem (Chilton and Good 2011, 59). Against this argument, Raymond E. Brown (1997, 425), holds that Paul came from a lower-class family, though he was a step up from one who was still a slave because he was a citizen. It is held by some scholars that Paul was well educated in the city of Tarsus, before he went to Jerusalem, being able to read and write Greek, as well as quote extensively from the Septuagint (LXX), and exemplary skills in Hellenistic rhetoric (Brown 1997, 423-425). For most of these liberal scholars, though, this is all mostly just speculation. What can we really know of Paul?
We can know for sure that Paul was from the city of Tarsus, as we have already noted with the liberal scholarship, and that this city was, indeed, an extremely influential place of Roman imperialism and culture (Elwell and Yarbrough 1998, 254). Even though Paul’s hometown was heavily influenced by Greco-Roman paganism, as Walter Elwell and Robert Yarbrough (1998, 254) state, in their New Testament survey, “his writings show little significant influence of pagan authors.” It was the Jewish Bible, our Old Testament, that dominates Paul’s thinking (Elwell and Yarbrough 1998, 254). Paul was, unlike how the liberal scholars hold, educated in Jerusalem, not in his hometown of Tarsus ( Acts 22:3* CSB; Ibid., 255). It was in Jerusalem that Paul studied under the greatest rabbi of his time, Gamaliel I (Acts 22:3 CSB). Paul was a strict and zealous Pharisee (Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 217). All of this gives background to who Paul was when he wrote Galatians.
When was the Letter Written?
Dating Paul’s letters is a complicated matter. There are three arguments around the dating of the Epistle of Galatians. All of these arguments stand on the notion of where in Galatia the letter was written to, northern or southern. The Northern Galatia Theory holds to two arguments—due to the argument in Gal 1:6 (CSB) of teachers coming in and presenting a different gospel, it is believed that Paul wrote this around the mid-fifties, that is AD 54-55 (Brown 1997, 477). The second argument for the Northern Galatia Theory is that Paul was planning to gather a collection from his Galatian churches for the Jerusalem church (1 Cor 16:1 CSSB), and after hearing that his flock had accepted a different gospel, he changed his mind and sent a letter instead to correct the problem (Ibid.). Those in this argument for the Northern Galatia Theory hold to a late date, ca. AD 57 while Paul was in Macedonia, written between 2 Corinthians and Romans (Ibid.). The third argument comes from the Southern Galatia Theory, which states that Paul wrote Galatians after the Second Missionary Journey (Ibid., 476). For those within this theory date the letter between AD 48 and early 50s (Ibid.). For some scholars, such as Bruce Chilton and Deirdre Good (2011, 70), the letter is dated to ca. AD 53. For other scholars—ie., Gerd Theissen (2003, 56), holds that Galatians is too difficult to date and could either be dated early, ca. AD 52 at the beginning of his time in Ephesus, or later ca. AD 55 right before he writes Romans, while he is ending his time in Ephesus. Raymond E. Brown (1997, 477), holds to a date of the mid-fifties, which puts him in the first argument for the Northern Galatia Theory.
At the heart of these arguments is the number of times Paul actually visited Jerusalem. Within this argument circles the view that there are three visits in Acts and two in Galatians, as well as why wouldn’t Paul mention the famine in Acts 11, which is within in the South Galatia Theory, and the mentioning of the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, which is part of the North Galatia Theory (McClelland 2012, 1329). On the North Galatia Theory, the argument is that either Luke added one extra visit, or that Paul left one out (Ibid.). This is the argument that most liberal scholars like, due to the simple fact that they do not trust the accuracy of the Luke in his telling of the story in Acts, however, they honor the truth from Paul, since he lived his life and Luke wrote everything much later. However, to hold this view, as I have mentioned in the author’s note, is a misinterpretation of the Scriptures. Basically, we are able to hold to a South Galatia Theory, which would date this letter to ca. AD 48-50 (Ibid.; Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 293-294). We are able to do this for various reasons. Paul’s explanation of his two visits to Jerusalem (of which Acts was written after Galatians, thus it has an extra visit different than Paul’s in Galatians) in Gal 1:17-24 (CSB) and 2:1-10 (CSB) with those in Acts 9:26 and 11:28-30 (CSB; Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 293). Paul mentions nothing of the council in Jerusalem from Acts 15 (CBS; Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 293). Along the same line is Peter’s retreat from the table fellowship (Gal 2:11-21 CSB), showing that this was before the Council (Carson, Moo, Morris 1992, 293).
Who were the Original Recipients of the Letter?
As we have seen, the dating of the letter relies heavily on the notion of who the original recipients were. Again, the argument is based on two theories, the North Galatia and the South Galatia Theories. For those in favor of the North Galatia Theory, think that Paul visited the cities, and established churches, in the northern-central portion of the Roman province of Galatia, which would have been the possible towns of Pessinus, Ancyra, and Tavium (Elwell and Yarbrough 1998, 297). The only problem with this is that it was during Paul’s Second Missionary Journey, as described in Acts 15:36-18:22 (CSB).
Acts only report of the previous towns that Paul had gone to were from his first trip, traveling to Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium. Then Luke states that they went through the regions of Phrygia and Galatia, which sounds like Luke stating that Paul did not actually stop anywhere in Galatia, but moved through the region to his next stop in Troas. Just who, then, were the Galatians?
To begin, Galatia was actually a province of the Roman Empire that was taken over in 287 BC (McClelland 2012, 1328). It is was in the area known as Anatolia in the Classical period, Asia Minor during the Second Temple period, and Turkey in our period. Caesar Augustus made it a province in 25 BC. Augustus wasted no time in this area, restructuring the province into a more progressive urbanization making cities, roads, and the creation of the imperial cult throughout the region (Egger 2016). The ethnic Gauls established the ancient cities of Ancyra (modern-day capital of Turkey, Ankara), Tavium, and Pessinus (McClelland 2012, 1328). These three cities were established in Northern Galatia. The Romans made Ancyra the capital of the province, bolstering some marvelous “baths, stadiums, theatre, temple to Augustus, and numerous other public buildings” (Egger 2016). Pisidian Antioch was made into a Roman colony in 6 BC, also known as Caesarea Antiocheia, and the capital city of the Southern portion of the Galatian province (Barry et al. 2016). Lystra was one of the southern cities of Galatia, made a Roman colony, of which Pisidian Antioch was a chief military colony, in 6 BC (Odor 2016). Lystra was a trade and market town (Ibid.). During the time of Paul’s journeys and this letter, Lystra did not have many inhabitants (Ibid.). Since this is more of a circular letter, then, the question is still asked of who the people of Galatia were? What we do know is that the area known as Galatia was colonized by the people of the ancient Gauls (Mclelland 2012, 1328).
* How you view the authority of scripture is going to determine how you interpret it. What I mean by that is if you find it inerrant and infallible then you are going to take the Bible, as a whole, as authoritative and divine in regards to your interpretation; if however, you take a more liberal, or moderate, view of the Bible (meaning that you do not hold it infallible or inerrant) then you decide what is factual in the Bible, instead of the Bible tell you what is factual or not. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy defines inerrant as “the quality of being free from all falsehood or mistake and so safeguard the truth that Holy Scripture is entirely true and trustworthy in all its assertions” (MacArthur 1980, 197). Further, the Statement defines infallible as “the quality of neither misleading nor being misled and so safeguards in categorical terms the truth that Holy Scripture is a sure, safe and reliable rule and guide in all matters.” (Ibid.). If you are not holding to these truths in regards to interpreting the Scriptures, then you are misinterpreting it (Ibid.). Basically, we need to know that there were human authors, who wrote in the genres of their time, yet God was completely in control of the whole thing from start to finish (Ibid).
Barry, John D., David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder, eds. 2016. “Antioch of Pisidia.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Brown, Raymond E. 1997. Introduction to the New Testament. Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library. New York: Doubleday.
Carson, D. A. and Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. 1992. Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Chilton, Bruce and Deirdre Good. 2011. Studying the New Testament: A Fortress Introduction. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Egger, John A. 2016. “Galatia.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Elwell, Walter A. and Robert W. Yarbrough. 1998. Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
MacArthur, John F. 1980. Why Believe the Bible? Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
McClelland, Scott E. 2012. “Galatians.” In Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary. Edited by Gary M. Burge and Andrew E. Hill, 1327-1354. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Odor, Judith A. 2016. “Lystra.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Theissen, Gerd. 2003. Fortress Introduction to the New Testament. Translated by John Bowden. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
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