Author and Date
This Epistle is undoubtedly by St Paul . It preserves blunt and ambiguous language which a later editor would want to alter. Acts 16:6 and Acts 18:23 record missions to Galatia. Most scholars date Galatians to 49–58 CE and Paul's visit to Jerusalem in Acts 15 to 49–51 CE. It is not clear whether the letter was to churches in north or south Turkey. Jervis pp.9, 15 argues that Galatians is early and concerns Greek-speaking south Galatia, while Acts 15 is a different meeting about churches established after the pagan north was opened up by Roman roads built around 70 CE. These notes reject Jervis' dating; the meeting in Acts 15 cannot be after 70 CE because it features James the half-brother of Jesus, who was martyred in 61 CE. Many details of the meeting match, and it seems implausible that the tensions in Acts 15 took two decades to emerge after Paul's vision in Acts 9. Galatians 2:7–10 seems to describe the same visit as Acts 15, so the letter dates from the 50s.
Audience and Content
Galatians 1:2 identifies the intended audience as Galatian Christians, and the arguments assume familiarity with the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) . Galatia included much of modern Turkey, from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. Galatians was written hastily in response to an emergency caused by itinerant preachers teaching the Galatians that Christians must obey the Law of Moses, including being circumcised; unfortunately the letter proved capable of being misunderstood. The ideas are carefully re-stated in Romans. Paul was eventually successful in establishing that Christians need not keep the Law of Moses (cf. Titus 1:10–11), though the issue reappears from time to time.
Galatians argues that the Law of Moses was not given directly by God, but through Moses, and is inferior Abraham's promises from God, and Paul's vision of the risen Jesus. The Law was for the Jews; Abraham's promise and Paul's commission are for all. The Law restrained the flesh like a slave-master (a vivid metaphor in a culture whose economy depended on slaves), but Christ gives life and freedom.
The theology and moral teaching of the Epistles can seem remote from the Gospels, but the summary in Galatians 2:21 is consistent with John 1:17. John's Gospel is the only one to use the word grace, which is common in the Epistles. Paul mentions crucifixion (but not resurrection) making three points: firstly, Judaism opposed Christ; secondly, Christ achieved atonement by self-sacrifice; and thirdly, Christians have been crucified with Christ and should be dead to sin and the Law of Moses (Jervis p.22).
Two aides-mémoire may be helpful:
Structure (based on Fitzmyer)
|1:11–2:14||Source of Paul's Gospel|
|2:15–21||Summary of Paul's Gospel|
|3:1–5||Proof 1: the Galatians' experience of the Spirit|
|3:6–26||Proof 2: God's promises to Abraham|
|3:27–29||Proof 3: the experience of Baptised Christians|
|4:1–11||Proof 4: experience of Christians as Children of God|
|4:12–20||Proof 5: the Galatians' relationship with Paul|
|4:21–31||Proof 6: the allegory of Sarah and Hagar|
© David Billin 2002–2021