The Background of the Book of Galatians
- Describe in a short phrase what you think the Book of Galatians, as a whole, is about.
- Did you find some sections or passages particularly difficult to understand? Jot those down so we can return to them later.
- In class, list out the key phrases from the book. Make note of which are synonyms of each other.
- In class, list out the people mentioned.
- In class, list out the events found.
- Locate the places mentioned on the following map:
About the Region
Galatia was the name of the region in the center of what we now call Asia Minor. The southern end of Galatia included Lystra, Iconium, and Derbe; places that Paul visited on his first journey (Acts 14:5-6). Paul also visited this region at least two other times (Acts 16:6; 18:23).
Dating the Book
The dates attributed to Galatians are broad, from being one of the first letters Paul wrote to one of his last letters.
Arguments for a Later Date
A common later date is around A.D. 57.
There are similarities between the book of Romans and the book of Galatians that lead some to believe that they were written at about the same time period. However, this is not conclusive evidence as a person can return to themes several times.
Galatians 4:13 implies that Paul has been in Galatia more than once. However, Acts 13-14 says that Paul visited twice Galatia twice during his first journey – once on his way in and again on his way out, so this would not be surprising or an indication of a later date.
The biggest difficulty with a later date is that it would put Peter and James in direct conflict with what was concluded in Jerusalem in Acts 15. An explanation would have to be given why these men argued for the acceptance of the Gentiles and then shunned them later.
Arguments for an Earlier Date
A common earlier date for the writing of the Book of Galatians is around A. D. 49. This would place the writing after Paul’s first journey but before the meeting in Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15. The earlier date would make Galatians Paul’s first letter.
In Galatians 1:17, Paul mentions that he didn’t go to Jerusalem after his conversion but instead went into Arabia and then returned to Damascus. Both Acts 9:20-25 and II Corinthians 11:32-33 mention Paul’s time in Damascus, which would have occurred between A.D. 34 and 37.
Galatians 1:18 tells of Paul briefly visiting Jerusalem for 15 days and meeting Peter then. This matches Acts 9:26-29 where Paul tried to associate with the brethren in Jerusalem but was rejected until Barnabas testified about Paul’s conversion.
When Hellenistic Jews wanted to put Paul to death over their disagreements with him, the brethren sent him off to Tarsus (Acts 9:30). In Galatians 1:21 Paul mentions his travels through Syria and Cilicia. Tarsus is in Cilicia. This would have taken place around A.D. 38.
Barnabas then fetches Paul from Tarsus to help him in the work at Antioch of Syria (Acts 11:25). This is generally dated to be around A.D. 46.
Paul mentions that after fourteen years (from his conversion?) he returned to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus. There he had a private meeting with the leaders in Jerusalem, where the leaders acknowledged Paul’s apostleship and commission to teach the Gentiles (Galatians 2:1-10). This corresponds with Acts 11:27-30 which states that because of a famine, Paul and Barnabas brought relief funds from Antioch to the elders in Jerusalem. This would have taken place around A.D. 47.
Notice that Galatians 2:5 implies that the churches in Galatia were established before Paul’s meeting with the leaders in Jerusalem. Acts 13-14 covers Paul’s first journey through Asia Minor, which included Galatia. This would have taken place between A.D. 47 and 48.
In Galatians 4:14 Paul states that the Galatians have received him as an angel of God. It is possible that Paul is alluding to the events recorded in Acts 14:11-12.
The events in Galatians 2:11-21 talk about Peter coming to Antioch and the problems that resulted. This probably occurred before the meeting recorded in Acts 15.
Barnabas is mentioned three times (Galatians 2:1, 9, 13), which would hint that this letter was written before Paul and Barnabas split at the start of the second journey (Acts 15:36-41), which came shortly after the meeting in Jerusalem.
Throughout the Galatians letter, Paul discusses the problem that was building with false teachers who were trying to convince the Gentiles to live under the Law of Moses (Galatians 1:6-10). The Galatians were being courted by these false teachers while at the same time being excluded by them (Galatians 4:17). Paul mentioned that there were people in Galatia wanting to be under the Law of Moses (Galatians 4:21) and in doing so, they were returning to the bondage of the Law (Galatians 5:1-4). Some were compelling Christians to be circumcised to avoid persecution by the Jews (Galatians 6:12-13). All of this hints that the letter to the Galatians was written prior to the meeting in Jerusalem that was recorded in Acts 15.
- Mark the key phrases in your text, using different colors or marks for the different topics.
- You should notice that there are groupings of various topics being discussed. Use these to divide the text into major segments.
- What do you think was the purpose for Paul writing Galatians?