The Roman province that occupied the central portion of what is now known as Asia Minor. It was bounded by other Roman provinces—in part by Cappadocia on the E, Bithynia and Pontus on the N, Asia on the W and Pamphylia on the S. (1 Pet. 1:1; see ASIA.) This central plateau region lay between the Taurus mountains on the S and the mountains of Paphlagonia on the N. In its north-central portion was the city of Ancyra, now called Ankara, the capital of Turkey. And through this area flowed the middle segment of the Halys River (the modern Kizil Irmak) and the upper Sangarius River (Sakarya), both of which empty into the Black Sea. The history of this region (four hundred and more years, from the third century B.C.E. forward) shows there were many changes in the boundaries and political affiliations of this strategic area.
It appears that around 278-277 B.C.E. hordes of Indo-European people known as Celts or Galli from Gaul, whom the Greeks called Galatai (hence the name given this region), moved across the Bosporus and settled there. They brought with them their wives and children and apparently avoided intermarrying with the people already there, in this way perpetuating their racial characteristics for centuries. Their last king, Amyntas, died in 25 B.C.E., and it was during his reign as a puppet of the Roman Empire and thereafter that the area designated as Galatia was enlarged to include such regions as Lycaonia, Pisidia, Paphlagonia, and parts of Pontus and Phrygia. This then was the expanded Galatia that the apostle Paul and other evangelizing Christians of the first century C.E. visited and in which they found persons eager to be organized into Christian congregations.—Acts 18:23; 1 Cor. 16:1.
Both Paul and Peter addressed letters to Christian congregations located in the province of Galatia. (Gal. 1:1, 2; 1 Pet. 1:1) Whether these were the same congregations established by Paul and Barnabas is not stated. On that swing through Galatia, Paul and Barnabas visited such Galatian cities as Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe (Acts 13:14, 51; 14:1, 5, 6), and when they returned to the brothers in Antioch of Syria they related how in these and other places God “had opened to the nations the door to faith.” (Acts 14:27) One experience they had in Lystra was most unusual. Paul had cured a crippled man who had never walked in his life, and suddenly the crowds began crying out in their native Lycaonian tongue: “The gods have become like humans and have come down to us!” Barnabas they called Zeus and Paul they thought to be Hermes. It was almost more than Paul and Barnabas could do to prevent the excited crowds from offering sacrifices to them as if they were gods.—Acts 14:8-18.
In his letters, when Paul addressed “the congregations of Galatia” (Gal. 1:2), or when he wrote Timothy that Crescens had left Rome to go to Galatia (2 Tim. 4:10), it is unreasonable to contend, as some do, that Paul was restricting the term “Galatia” to the ancient, original area settled by the Gallic people in the northern section of the Roman province. Why would he make an exception in this instance? On other occasions when Paul used geographical terms, it was customary for him to use the official Roman provincial designation of his time, as, for example, in speaking of the congregations in the provinces of Asia, Macedonia and Achaia.—1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Cor. 8:1; 9:1, 2.
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. (Gal. 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. (Gal. 2:15–3:14; 4:9, 10) Racially, “the congregations of Galatia” (Gal. 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. (Acts 13:14, 43; 16:1; Gal. 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.
The seeds of Christianity sown among the Galatians bore good fruitage. It was from among them that disciples like Timothy and Gaius came. (Acts 16:1; 20:4) Paul gave instructions to the Galatian congregations as to the manner of laying aside contributions for the Lord’s poor and needy ones.—1 Cor. 16:1, 2; Gal. 2:10.