Galatians: Introduction

September 25, 2019 2 Comments

“Paul, an apostle – sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead – and all the brothers with me,

To the churches in Galatia:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Galatians 1:1-5

No scholar hardly questions Paul as the author of this letter to the Galatians. Very little is also questioned about the text or the document’s unity. These facts are astounding when one considers that the letter was written nearly 2,000 years ago. One item that is of interest and debate is who the Galatians were.

The term Galatia was used broadly by Greek writers along with the terms Galatae, Galli, and Celtae by Latin writers. “These terms were used to refer to a group of people originating in central Europe in the Danube river basin but who migrated into Switzerland, southern Germany, northern Italy, France (hence the Roman name Gaul for this region) , Britain (the Celts) and … into the Balkans, and Asia Minor. The region which these peoples inhabited and took control of in Asia Minor came to be called Galatia or even Gallogrecia (the land of Greek speaking Gauls).”

Around 278 B.C., these people arrived in Asia Minor. They responded to an invitation extended by Nicomedes the king of Bithynia to serve as mercenaries. They located to an area in north central Asia Minor but by 189 B.C. they were under the control of Rome. These original Galatian people and their descendants “retained a great deal of their original culture well beyond the New Testament era. They spoke a Celtic dialect which continued to survive into the fourth century A.D., at least in rural areas of ethnic Galatia. They had a distinctive form of Celtic religious and political organization and were widely revered and feared as great warriors and mercenaries. They were considered barbarians due to their strange dialect, considerable physical stature, and wild appearance, though by Paul’s time most of them seem to have been capable of speaking Greek.”

In 64 B.C., they found favor with Pompey and became a favored client kingdom under Roman rule. Marc Antony, in about 40 B.C., appointed a secretary, Amyntas, to serve as king over Phrygia and Pisidia. Amyntas also acquired other lands in the area as bonus: Pamphylia, a part of Lycaonia, and Cilicia Tracheia. By 25 B.C., Amyntas controlled the entire Galatian kingdom except for portions of Pamphylia and Cilicia which were under another region’s control. Following Amyntas’s death, the kingdom of Galatia was reorganized as a Roman province governed by a praetorian legate. The Roman government continued to add territory to the province of Galatia during the time of Paul. The area bordered the Black Sea in the north and the Mediterranean Sea in the south. Therefore, “in theory when Paul addressed persons as Galatians,… he could be addressing people anywhere in this region.” These people for the most part lived in peace with little presence of Roman legions in the area during Paul’s timeframe.

Around 6 B.C, the Via Sebaste, the great Roman road was built along the southern portion of the region. This road linked most of the major cities in this region. A Roman road along the northern portion of Galatia wasn’t constructed until the 70s and 80s A.D. “The existence of Roman roads in the south but not in the northern part of the province in Paul’s day must be factored into the discussion of the audience Paul is addressing in Galatians.”  This province “included many different tribes and peoples and not just the descendants of the Celts or Gauls, the only term which could be predicated of all of them in Paul’s day would be Galatians. … there is clear evidence from the inscriptions of the period that the entire region was regularly called Galatia in the New Testament era … and not just the Celtic or Gallic part.”

Unrest did come to this region during the 50s A.D. Nero did replace the consular governor, M. Annius Afrinus with Domitius Corbulo. From A.D. 74 – A.D. 297, the Roman government removed portions of the Galatian kingdom to form other regions. “In A.D. 297 southern Galatia was united with surrounding regions to form a new province of Pisidia with Antioch as its capital, and this in turn meant that the province of Galatia at this point reverted back to its original ethnological dimensions. It was this later truncated form of Galatia that was known as the province of Galatia to Christian commentators who discussed Paul’s Galatians between the fourth and nineteenth centuries of this era. It is not surprising under these circumstances that these commentators assumed that by ‘Galatians’ Paul was referring to the residence of ethnic or old kingdom of Galatia which coincided with the Roman province of Galatia after A.D. 297.” Archaeology, however, challenged “this assumption about the locale of Paul’s Galatian converts” and scholars, starting around the end of the 1800s to the turn of the twentieth century, took a closer inspection on the locale of this early church. Strong evidence points toward Paul’s letter being written and sent to the southern portion of Galatia.

Several hints appear in the letter which help to date Paul’s writing. The letter must have been written after Paul’s conversion. The letter also must have been constructed after Paul and Peter’s disagreement over table fellowship in Antioch. Another clue lies in the lack of Paul sending greetings to individual Christians. This letter is “a problem-solving letter not a progress-oriented letter.” Galatians is the only letter that gives detailed discussion of Paul’s pre-Christian years, his conversion and the events that followed. These details also help pinpoint the date of the letter. Factoring in the people and places mentioned in the letter and those not included in the letter also give weight to placing a time stamp. The church at Galatia is also mentioned briefly in regard to the collection of money in 1 Corinthians 16:1. Therefore, Galatians must have been written prior to 1 Corinthians which has been dated between A.D. 53-54.. Therefore, the date of Galatians can be placed “no earlier than about A.D. 49 and no later than about A.D. 53-54” and was probably written from Antioch.

In the next lesson, we will learn more details about this letter and the people who received it.

Blessings,

Mimi

References: Grace in Galatia A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians Ben Witherington III; The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians William Barclay; Life Application Study Bible New International Version; blueletterbible.org

Mimi

2 Comments

  1. Reply

    Alfred Kuhnert

    September 30, 2019

    I could not stop reading after getting started. Love having a fuller understanding of Paul’s target audience.

    • Reply

      Mimi

      October 2, 2019

      Thanks Alfred! If you liked the socio-historical content, you might enjoy the posts I did on Paul’s first and second missionary journeys. : )

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