The inspired letter written in Greek, by Paul an apostle, “to the congregations of Galatia.”—Ga 1:1, 2.
Writership. The opening sentence names Paul as the writer of this book. (Ga 1:1) Also, his name is used again in the text, and he refers to himself in the first person. (5:2) A portion of the letter, in the way of an autobiography, speaks of Paul’s conversion and some of his other experiences. The references to his affliction in the flesh (4:13, 15) are in harmony with expressions seemingly relating to this affliction in other Bible books. (2Co 12:7; Ac 23:1-5) Paul’s other letters were usually written by a secretary, but this one, he says, was written with his “own hand.” (Ga 6:11) In his other writings, almost without exception, he sends the greetings of himself and those with him, but in this letter he does not. Had the writer of the letter to the Galatians been an impostor, he would very likely have named a secretary and would have sent some greetings, as Paul usually did. Thus the writer’s form of address and his honest direct style vouch for the letter’s authenticity. It would not reasonably be fabricated this way.
The letter is not usually contested as being a letter of Paul’s except by those who attempt to discredit Paul’s writership of all the letters commonly attributed to him. Among evidences from outside the Bible supporting Paul’s writership, there is a quotation that Irenaeus (c. 180 C.E.) makes from Galatians and ascribes to Paul.
To Whom Addressed. The question of which congregations were included in the address “the congregations of Galatia” (Ga 1:2) has long been a controversy. In support of the contention that these were unnamed congregations in the northern part of the province of Galatia, it is argued that the people living in this area were ethnically Galatians, whereas those of the S were not. However, Paul in his writings usually gives official Roman names to the provinces, and the province of Galatia in his time included the southern Lycaonian cities of Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe as well as the Pisidian city of Antioch. In all these cities Paul had organized Christian congregations on his first evangelizing tour when he was accompanied by Barnabas. That the congregations in the cities of Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, and Pisidian Antioch were addressed agrees with the way the letter mentions Barnabas, as one apparently known by those to whom Paul was writing. (2:1, 9, 13) There is no indication elsewhere in the Scriptures that Barnabas was known to Christians in the northern part of Galatia or that Paul even made any trips through that territory.
Paul’s exclamation, “O senseless Galatians,” is no evidence that he had in mind only a certain ethnic people who sprang exclusively from Gallic stock in the northern part of Galatia. (Ga 3:1) Rather, Paul was rebuking certain ones in the congregations there for allowing themselves to be influenced by an element of Judaizers among them, Jews who were attempting to establish their own righteousness through the Mosaic arrangement in place of the ‘righteousness due to faith’ provided by the new covenant. (2:15–3:14; 4:9, 10) Racially, “the congregations of Galatia” (1:2) to whom Paul wrote were a mixture of Jews and non-Jews, the latter being both circumcised proselytes and non-circumcised Gentiles, and no doubt some were of Celtic descent. (Ac 13:14, 43; 16:1; Ga 5:2) All together, they were addressed as Galatian Christians because the area in which they lived was called Galatia. The whole tenor of the letter is that Paul was writing to those with whom he was well acquainted in the southern part of this Roman province, not to total strangers in the northern sector, which he apparently never visited.
Time of Writing. The period covered by the book is of an undetermined length, but the time of writing has been set between approximately 50 and 52 C.E. It is implied in Galatians 4:13, that Paul made at least two visits to the Galatians before he wrote the letter. Chapters 13 and 14 of the Acts of Apostles describe a visit of Paul and Barnabas to the southern Galatian cities that took place about 47 to 48 C.E. Then, after the conference regarding circumcision in Jerusalem, about 49 C.E., Paul, with Silas, went back to Derbe and Lystra in Galatia and to other cities where Paul and Barnabas had “published the word of Jehovah” (Ac 15:36–16:1) on the first tour. It was evidently after this, while Paul was at another point on his second missionary tour, or else back at his home base, Syrian Antioch, that he received word that prompted him to write to “the congregations of Galatia.”
If it was during his year-and-a-half stay in Corinth (Ac 18:1, 11) that Paul wrote this letter, then the time of writing was likely between the autumn of 50 and the spring of 52 C.E., the same general period during which he wrote his canonical letters to the Thessalonians.
If the writing was done during his brief stop in Ephesus or after he got back to Antioch in Syria and “passed some time there” (Ac 18:22, 23), it would have been about 52 C.E. Ephesus is an unlikely place for writing, though, both because of his short stay there and because if Paul had been so close when he heard of the deflection in Galatia, it is to be expected that he would have personally visited the brothers or explained in his letter why it was not possible for him to do so at the time.
What his letter says about the Galatians “being so quickly removed from the One who called [them]” (Ga 1:6) may indicate that the writing of the letter was done soon after Paul had paid a visit to the Galatians. But even if the writing had not taken place until 52 C.E. in Syrian Antioch, it would still have been relatively soon for such a deflection to occur.
Canonicity. Early evidence of the book’s canonicity is found in the Muratorian Fragment and in the writings of Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen. These men referred to it by name along with most or all of the other 26 books of the Christian Greek Scriptures. It is mentioned by name in the shortened canon of Marcion and even alluded to by Celsus, who was an enemy of Christianity. All the outstanding lists of the books in the canon of the inspired Scriptures, up to at least the time of the Third Council of Carthage, in 397 C.E., included the book of Galatians. We have it preserved today, along with eight of Paul’s other inspired letters, in the Chester Beatty Papyrus No. 2 (P46), a manuscript assigned to about 200 C.E. This gives proof that the early Christians accepted the book of Galatians as one of Paul’s letters. Other ancient manuscripts, such as the Sinaitic, Alexandrine, Vatican No. 1209, Codex Ephraemi rescriptus, and Codex Claromontanus, as well as the Syriac Peshitta, likewise include the book of Galatians. Also, it harmonizes completely with Paul’s other writings and with the rest of the Scriptures from which it frequently quotes.
Circumstances Relating to the Letter. The letter reflects many traits of the people of Galatia in Paul’s time. Gallic Celts from the N had overrun the region in the third century B.C.E., and therefore Celtic influence was strong in the land. The Celts, or Gauls, were considered a fierce, barbarous people, it having been said that they offered their prisoners of war as human sacrifices. They have also been described in Roman literature as a very emotional, superstitious people, given to much ritual, and this religious trait would likely influence them away from a form of worship so lacking in ritual as Christianity.
Even so, the congregations in Galatia may have included many who formerly had been like this as pagans, as well as many converts from Judaism who had not entirely rid themselves of scrupulously keeping the ceremonies and other obligations of the Mosaic Law. The fickle, inconstant nature attributed to the Galatians of Celtic descent could explain how at one time some in the Galatian congregations were zealous for God’s truth and a short time later became an easy prey for opponents of the truth who were sticklers for observance of the Law and who insisted that circumcision and other requirements of the Law were necessary for salvation.
The Judaizers, as such enemies of the truth might be called, apparently kept the circumcision issue alive even after the apostles and other elders in Jerusalem had dealt with the matter. Perhaps, too, some of the Galatian Christians were succumbing to the low moral standards of the populace, as may be inferred from the message of the letter from chapter 5, verse 13, to the end. At any rate, when word of their deflection reached the apostle, he was moved to write this letter of straightforward counsel and strong encouragement. It is evident that his immediate purpose in writing was to confirm his apostleship, counteract the false teachings of the Judaizers, and strengthen the brothers in the Galatian congregations.
The Judaizers were crafty and insincere. (Ac 15:1; Ga 2:4) Claiming to represent the congregation in Jerusalem, these false teachers opposed Paul and discredited his position as an apostle. They wanted the Christians to get circumcised, not seeking the Galatians’ best interests, but so that the Judaizers could bring about an appearance of things that would conciliate the Jews and keep them from opposing so violently. The Judaizers did not want to suffer persecution for Christ.—Ga 6:12, 13.
To accomplish their objective, they claimed that Paul’s commission came to him secondhand, that it was only from some men prominent in the Christian congregation—not from Christ Jesus himself. (Ga 1:11, 12, 15-20) They wanted the Galatians to follow them (4:17), and in order to nullify Paul’s influence, they had to paint him first as no apostle. Apparently they claimed that when Paul felt it expedient, he preached circumcision. (1:10; 5:11) They were trying to make a sort of fusion religion of Christianity and Judaism, not denying Christ outright but arguing that circumcision would profit the Galatians, that it would advance them in Christianity, and that, furthermore, by this they would be sons of Abraham, to whom the covenant of circumcision was originally given.—3:7.
Paul thoroughly refuted the contentions of these false Christians and built up the Galatian brothers so that they could stand firm in Christ. It is encouraging to note that the Galatian congregations did remain true to Christ and stood as pillars of the truth. The apostle Paul visited them on his third missionary tour (Ac 18:23), and the apostle Peter addressed his first letter to the Galatians, among others.—1Pe 1:1.
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HIGHLIGHTS OF GALATIANS
A letter emphasizing appreciation for the freedom that true Christians have through Jesus Christ
Written a year or perhaps several years after the Galatians had been informed about the decision of the governing body that circumcision is not required of Christians
Paul defends his apostleship
Paul’s apostleship was not of human origin but was by appointment from Jesus Christ and the Father; he did not consult with the apostles in Jerusalem before beginning to declare the good news; not until three years later did he briefly visit Cephas and James (1:1, 13-24)
The good news he proclaimed was received, not from men, but by revelation from Jesus Christ (1:10-12)
By reason of a revelation, Paul, with Barnabas and Titus, went to Jerusalem regarding the circumcision issue; he learned nothing new from James, Peter, and John, but they recognized that he had been empowered for an apostleship to the nations (2:1-10)
At Antioch, when Peter wrongly separated himself from non-Jewish believers in fear of certain visiting brothers from Jerusalem, Paul reproved him (2:11-14)
A person is declared righteous only through faith in Christ, not works of law
If a person could be declared righteous by works of law, Christ’s death would have been unnecessary (2:15-21)
Galatians received God’s spirit because of their responding in faith to the good news, not because of works of law (3:1-5)
Because of being unable to keep the Law perfectly, those seeking to prove themselves righteous by works of the Law are under a curse (3:10-14)
The Law did not invalidate the promise associated with the Abrahamic covenant, but it served to make transgressions manifest and acted as a tutor leading to Christ (3:15-25)
Stand fast in Christian freedom
Jesus Christ, by his death, released those under law, making it possible for them to become sons of God (4:1-7)
Returning to an arrangement of observing days, months, seasons, and years would mean going back into slavery and coming into a position like that of Ishmael, the son of the servant girl Hagar; with his mother he was dismissed from Abraham’s household (4:8-31)
Do not abuse your freedom but yield to the influence of God’s spirit, manifesting its fruitage in your life and shunning the works of the flesh (5:13-26)
Readjust in a spirit of mildness anyone taking a false step; but all are individually obligated to carry their own load of responsibility (6:1-5)