Some months ago, our group embarked on a study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. The study is now complete, but, life being what it was, I didn’t make time for weblogging some gleanings during our process. Reading aloud helps me to take in important material more thoroughly, and reviewing/writing about such things also aids me in processing the material, so I resolved to move through the study material again. I recently did just that.
Today, then, begins an 8-part blog series on Galatians. This material will involve more scholarship (and less personal opinion) than many of my little essays. If you have little patience for serious textual investigation . . . well, I commend it to you, anyway (!), but you could tune out, I suppose, taking a break from my blog for a the next couple of weeks. I sincerely hope not to overwhelm, so these relatively abbreviated posts will come every two days.
On to Galatians!
Authorship. This letter is universally accepted as authentic, i.e., no one thinks it was penned by some later charlatan. Galatians was almost certainly written a brief 14-16 years after Saul’s Damascus Road theophany; it is said to be the most historically detailed of all of Paul’s letters.
Audience. The identity of the Galatian peoples addressed is a matter of some question; it was either addressed to the Phrygian province of Galatia, or to a larger “Gaul-atian” region into which massive people groups had migrated from the North and West. I favor the former, more traditional viewpoint on this question; inference has led many scholars to this conclusion, based on the documentary evidence of Paul’s mission visit to Phrygian Galatia, not to mention its more strategic location in the Roman world at the time.
Dating. The measuring of the intervening time periods between Damascus Road and missionary activity and letters to churches is not insignificant. Some theologically liberal scholars — i.e., those who are unconvinced of Jesus’ divinity and the specific, saving work of God on earth — are fond of suggesting that Paul “invented” Christianity some decades down the road. However, a close examination of the timetable shows that, at most, there could only have been 3-4 years between the ascension and Paul’s conversion. Likely, Paul was converted between 6 and 18 months after Jesus died. I highly recommend Paul Barnett’s monograph The Birth of Christianity as a means of comprehending both the chronology and significance of the first 15-20 years of Christianity.
In the Galatian letter and in other attested documents, Paul presents the “apostles” as having gone before him: “the church of God” and “the faith” were for him objects of prior persecution. By the time of the writing and publication of the Acts (post-70AD), Jewish rejection of Jesus as Christ was more or less a done deal; matters were presented differently at that time because the social context and resultant agenda of that inspired author (Luke) were different. The letters, though, were written chronologically closer to the actual events; at that time, Jewish rejection and Gentile acceptance were both still somewhat surprising.
Galatians has been dubbed the “Magna Carta of the Reformation.” As such, it provides essential material for any student of Christianity and certainly for the serious disciple of Jesus.