“To the Churches of Galatia”
“May it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord”

By Jon W. Quinn

“Paul, an apostle (not sent from men, nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead), and all the brethren who are with me, to the churches of Galatia…” (Galatians 1:1,2).

Thus begins the letter that Paul sent out to all the churches in a rather wide area. Though there is some question as to the letter's exact date, many believe it to actually be the first one that was written by the inspired pen of the apostle Paul.

The Region
Galatia was a Roman Province located in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). Sometimes, the term “Galatia” would be used not just of Galatia proper, but also of the culturally similar area, including such towns as Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. Surprisingly, the people of the region were Celts, the ancestors of some of the French, Scots, Irish and so forth who would migrate north in the following centuries (these would be my ancestors-J.Q.).

The Gospel Preached
The first record of the gospel coming to Galatia was during the first Missionary Journey (46-48 A.D.-see Acts 13,14) The trip began with Barnabas and Saul and ended with Barnabas and Paul because it was during this trip that Paul took upon himself the name by which he would teach and preach the gospel. John Mark, who would later write the gospel that bears his name, also joined them as well. The journey began at Antioch (Syria). (Acts 13:1-4) When Galatia was reached by the gospel preachers, the journey continued as follows:

Perga (13:13-50)
Iconium (13:51- 14:5)
Lycaonia, Lystra, Derbe (14:6-20)

As the group returned to Antioch, they again passed through many of the towns where churches had been established by God through their work to strengthen the new Christians (14:21-25)

We know of other follow up visits (Acts 16:6; 18:23).

Following this journey (often referred to as Paul's “first missionary journey”), there was a visit by Paul and Barnabas to the apostles in Jerusalem to help settle an issue: namely, are these Galatians and other Gentile converts required to keep the Old Testament Law (specifically, the law of circumcision) in order to be faithful Christians? There is a meeting and discussion of the issue, and the apostles issue their inspired judgment on the matter, thus assuring that the answer came from God (Acts 15:1-35). After this is settled doctrinally by inspiration (though it will continue to be a problem among those who refuse to accept it) Paul and Silas take the second missionary journey which includes revisiting the churches of Galatia before heading toward new territory; Europe.

The Author
Paul, the apostle chosen personally and directly by Jesus is the author. Not only does Paul say so (Galatians 1:1,2), but the personal history and circumstances discussed in the book show that this is so.

For example, it was the writer who taught them the gospel at first (Galatians 1:8). The visit to Jerusalem with Barnabas is also mentioned as having taken place (Galatians 2:1-4; this was 14 years after his first visit; see alsoGalatians 1:18-19), which, in turn, was 3 years after his conversion (Galatians 1:15-17). Following this visit to Jerusalem to settle the Gentile question, he went to Syria (where Antioch is).

The Date
There are differences of opinion about the specific date. We know it was at least 17 years after his conversion (34 A.D.). I believe that somewhere around 49-52 A.D. (coinciding with the conclusion of the conference at Jerusalem about some trying to bind the Law of Moses on the Gentile converts) is probably correct. The reason would be that the chief problem addressed in the book is the same one. As Paul traces his personal history (Gal. 1:11-2:210, he begins with him as a persecutor, and continues through his conversion, accounts for the following 17 years (bringing us up and through the Jerusalem council), and then a few subsequent events related to the same problem.

However, some put the book a little later, and it is true that some continued to disturb the new Gentile converts by trying to add the circumcision requirement of the Old Covenant to what they must do to be saved. Putting it a little later might make it the third letter Paul wrote instead of the first; the first two being 1st and 2nd Thessalonians.

A Problem Addressed
The chief problem was some Jewish disciples were trying to bind the Old Law on the new Gentile believers. The answer in the Galatian letter written to predominately Gentile churches was that we are not justified by the Law of Moses, and Gentiles are under no obligation to keep it. Note that the letter does not teach us that “we are saved by faith alone” Neither the phrase nor the idea is in the book. But it does tell us that we are justified by God's grace and apart from obeying the Old Law. Several passages plainly show that salvation by faith is not the same as salvation by belief alone. “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Galatians 3:26-27; see also 3:23-29; 5:6,7; 6:7;9).

Concluding Remarks
There are many other things we could say about the author, Paul, and this epistle, and his relationship with the brethren in Galatia. Here is something that stands out to me.

Note this passage: “From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus.” (Galatians 6:17). And then note this from Luke's record of the preaching trip in Galatia: “But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. But while the disciples stood around him, he arose and entered the city. And the next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe.” (Acts 14:19-20).

Paul's wounds and injuries would have been well known to the brethren in Galatia. He asks, “Have I therefore become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Gal. 4:16). He had risked his life and suffered horribly in their behalf. His reprimand was not that of an enemy, but of a friend. And as a friend, He did not want their salvation to be destroyed by a fall from grace (Galatians 5:4).

It is difficult for me to imagine a much stronger piece of evidence of a man's love for his neighbors than that which was obvious in the work and life of the apostle Paul. The world should see similar devotion and selflessness in us!
From The Bradley Banner 3/22/2009
Published by the Bradley Church of Christ
1505 E. Broadway
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