“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
Last week during my introduction to the study on Galatians, I wrote about the ethnic origin of the people who lived in this region. I was surprised to learn of their origin. Were you? I had never given much thought to where they had originated from geographically. I think I assumed they were originally from the region and not immigrants. I believe Paul would have known their heritage and would have had a mental impression of the type of people they were. As a speaker appealing on Jesus’s behalf, Paul would have used any information or knowledge he had to reach others for Jesus. Knowledge of their past would have given Paul insight into how to phrase his letter in order to appeal to their sensibilities in ways that would make the most impact.
As stated last week, the term Galatia/Galatians is general for that region. This letter from Paul would have been passed among several home churches and not sent to one church. The majority of the Galatian believers were predominantly Gentile and not Jewish. As was Paul’s usual custom, he first shared the message of Jesus among the Jews and then shared it with the Gentiles. (Acts 13:46-48) Paul’s plan was to reach everyone that he could for Jesus. When the message of Jesus was rejected, Paul moved on and offered it to a different place and group of people. Another important point to remember also is that Christianity during this stage was “more of a sect than an institutional church,.”
This letter was written during a time when the area “was feeling the effects of a significant food crisis, caused in part by a famine which resulted in a shortage of grain production in Egypt in the mid and late 40s. Famines were not uncommon, but food crises were even more common and in fact can be said to have been of a chronic nature in the mid first century A.D..” Another social issue that may have bearing on our study is the “state and status of Jews in Roman colonies in Asia Minor, especially in light of the expulsion of Jews and apparently Jewish Christians from Rome in A.D. 49.” A third social issue that perhaps impacts our reading of this epistle is the increasing popularity and growth of the Imperial cult throughout the first century. Inscriptional evidence reveals that “the ‘god’ Augustus and the goddess ‘Roma’ were worshipped in the Roman province of Galatia … as early as … the reign of Tiberius…. Partly the popularity of the Imperial cult … was due to the public banquets, lavish spectacles, and gymnastic competitions sponsored, but also partly due to the distribution of important commodities, such as oil, in a variety of places. The Romans were wise enough to make the Galatians themselves the high priests of this cult to ensure local interest and devotion to the cult…. The most dominant building in Pisidian Antioch when Paul will have visited it would have been the Temple of divine Augustus in the center of the city.”
Beyond the book of Acts, little else is known about Judaism in this Galatian province. Flavius Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, wrote in his work Antiquities of the Jews that “during the reign of the Seleucid ruler Antiochus III Jews were removed from Mesopotamia and Babylon to Phrygia and Lydia in order to help pacify the area and help insure a stable, normal hard-working populous in the region.” Other inscriptional evidence exists but adds little to our study.
The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Galatians in the midst of this social unrest and struggle. He wrote to address the discord that this community of faith was experiencing amongst themselves. Some people in the church were causing unrest, confusion, dissension, and doubt. They believed they were in the right. Paul stood in opposition to their beliefs. If they had succeeded, Christianity might have been only a sect amidst the Jewish faith. We will learn more in the coming weeks about those who were wreaking havoc amongst their fellow followers of Jesus Christ.