In terms of authorship, Paul’s letter to the Galatians is one of the least disputed writings in the NT.

nt galatia

Date of authorship, however, has been a subject for lively debate. Two theories loosely correlate with early and late dates for the letter’s origin.

The North Galatia theory asserts the Galatian churches were founded on Paul’s second missionary journey during an undocumented excursion into the northern part of an ancient geographical region known as Galatia.

The South Galatia theory, on the other hand, asserts they were established on his first journey while in the Roman provincial region known as Galatia.

The difference between these alternatives is not critical but it does color one’s understanding of the text.

For example, if the North Galatia theory is true, then the Jerusalem council had already given its judgment on the relationship between Jewish and Gentile Christians prior to Paul’s letter.

Also, the power behind Paul’s reference to Barnabas is diminished because the north Galatian churches would not have known him personally.

Other examples are possible, but modern readers are fortunate in that the major truths in Galatians are not dependent on a precise date for its authorship.

North-South Galatia Theory
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The reasons for Paul’s letter seem clear. The Galatians had responded to him with confidence in his office and in his message, but Jewish visitors had subverted their confidence shortly after his departure. The visitors claimed authority from the Jerusalem church and charged Paul with being an inferior apostle with unstable convictions and an incomplete message.

Insiders within the church also seem to be agitating against Paul. To modern readers, Paul does seem to flip-flop on circumcision, circumcising Timothy but not Titus.

The principle that resolves the apparent inconsistency is that Jewish Christians were obligated as a matter of conscience to keep the law while Gentiles were theologically prevented from becoming subject to it.

Modern-day application of this principle to differing communities of faith would go a long way in healing present divisions within Christianity. (Note that law-versus-grace controversy in the NT has given many Christians an overly negative view of the Jewish Law. For example, the “certificate of debt” nailed to Jesus’ cross (Col 2:14) was a list of offenses, not the law. Also, the typical division of OT law into ceremonial and moral is an invention– the OT makes no such distinction; e.g., in Lev 17, rules on sorcery are mixed in with instruction on haircuts.)

Although Romans and Galatians share common themes, Galatians reflects a passion that comes from personal acquaintance, a sense of ownership, and the possibility of loss.

Paul responds to conditions in the churches of Galatia on multiple levels, offering rebuttals to specific charges while also shaping the issues in terms of theology. His arguments are based both on scripture and on a shared experience of the Spirit. For him, relationship precedes and interprets rule keeping. He saw the source of life (law versus grace) as affecting the shape of life (bondage versus freedom).


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