1. The writer: The Apostle Paul (Gal. 1:1).

  2. The date and place of writing:
    The letter has been dated between 48/49 to 57/58 A.D. If the early date is used, the writing of the letter would precede the Jerusalem Council in A.D. 49/50 and would be one of Paul's earliest letters. The letter would then probably have been written in Antioch of Syria. Sir William Ramsay dated the letter in the early fifties, while J. B. Lightfoot dated in the late fifties. Then the letter would be probably written in Corinth on Paul's third missionary journey about the time the letter to the Romans was written. The solution of the problem of dating the letter depends partially upon the solution of another problem: where is Galatia?

  3. The destination: "the churches of Galatia".
    Galatia was originally an area in northeastern Asia Minor, which is now called Turkey. It had been settled by invading Gauls from northern Europe in the third century B.C. When the Romans conquerored the land in 25 B.C., they enlarged the territory, including the area to the south of the Gallic territory, and named the whole province Galatia. In the first Christian century the term "Galatia" might be used for the old territory (ethnic Galatia) or for the whole new province (provincial Galatia), which included the southern cities of Antioch of Pisidia (not Antioch of Syria), Iconium, Derbe, and Lystra.

    Which of these areas did Paul refer to when he wrote his letter to the churches of Galatia (Gal. 1:2)? In the New Testament the term "Galatia" is used seven times. In Galatians 1:2 and in 3:1 the people of the churches are addressed, but no hint is given of their location except that they were converted under Paul's ministry. In I Corinthians 16:1 Paul speaks of "the churches of Galatia" when he had asked for contributions for the poor in Jerusalem. In the same passage Paul refers to Macedonia (16:5), to Achaia (16:15), and to Asia (16:19). Since these last three names are references to Roman provinces, it would seem probable that Galatia in this context refers also to a Roman province, the whole territory. The two other passages that refer to Galatia are found in Acts. The first of the two, Acts 16:6, says, "And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia,,," This peculiar expression could be translated "the Phrygian and Galatian region" or "the Phrygio-Galatia region". Since Paul and company were traveling westward, the territory must have been adjacent to Asia and Mysia, which they were prevented by Holy Spirit from entering. The second of the two passages, Acts 18:23, says, "the regions of Galatia and Phrygia, in order." Here the same names are used, but in reverse order. This passage refers to the beginning of Paul's third missionary journey which started from Antioch of Syria and finally reached Ephesus in the province of Asia. This passage gives the order or sequence of regions that Paul went through to reach Ephesus. The first passage in Acts 16:6 gives the region that Paul went through on his second missionary journey. The problem is this: was the letter written to the churches in the south of the province founded on the first missionary journey or to the churches in Ethnic Galatia that was founded on the second missionary journey?

    1. The latter of these two views is called the North Galatian Theory and is the older theory held by older commentators (such as J.B. Lightfoot, [1] Conybeare and Howson). According to this theory, Paul did not visit Galatia proper until his second missionary journey after he had left the southern territory of Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium, and traveled through the "region of Phrygia and Galatia" mentioned in Acts 16:6. Here he founded churches in the territory of old ethnic Galatia, including the cities of Pessinus, Ancyra, and Tavium. After traveling through this region, he finally arrived at Troas after a long journey. Since Paul would not have gone into this area until his second missionary journey (Acts 16), this letter to the Galatian churches would have to be dated later.
    2. The former of these two views is called the South Galatian Theory and is the accepted theory since the time of Sir William Ramsay [2] that many modern commentators (Tenny, Ridderbos) have adopted. According to this theory, the letter to the Galatians would have been sent to the churches of the cities founded on Paul's first missionary journey mentioned in Acts 13 and 14, and this would allow for the earlier date of the letter. These churches were revisited on the second and third missionary journeys (Acts 16:1-6; 18:23). The second tour of these southern churches would not have precluded completely a northern swing into the territory of old ethnic Galatia, but there is no mention in Acts 16 of the founding of churches there; Paul just "went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia" (Acts 16:6), northward along the Phrygio-Galatic border to Mysia and Bithynia. When he was prevented by the Holy Spirit from entering the provinces of Asia and Mysia (Acts 16:6-7), at this point he turned westward to Troas.

    The South Galatian Theory gives a better explanation of the writing of the letter. If Galatians was not written until after Paul toured the ethnic Galatia territory on his second or third missionary journey, and consequently long after the Council of Jerusalem (Act 15) in A.D. 50, it is difficult to explain why Paul made no appeal to the decision of that council in settling the controversy about law versus grace. The decision of that council would have been quite useful in convincing the Galatians that the teaching of the Judaizing legalistic faction was not supported by the leaders of the church. But the fact that no action of the council is at all mentioned in this letter indicates that the council had not yet occurred when the letter was written.

    This conclusion is strengthened by other considerations. The Galatians were acquainted with Barnabas (Gal. 2:1, 9, 13), who was Paul's companion only on his first journey (Acts 13, 14). The fact that the main Roman roads ran through the cities of South Galatia, and that the Judaizers were in that area, where there were very few Jews in the cities of North Galatia (according to Ramsay), point toward the destination of this letter to be the churches of Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe.

    If this be the correct conclusion concerning the destination of the letter, then much that is known from the book of Acts concerning Paul's work in founding and establishing the churches there may be reflected in the letter. His address in the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia concludes on a note that epitomizes the message of Galatian letter (Acts 13:38-39). Also the welcome that Paul received in Lystra (Acts 14:11ff.) may well be referred to in the letter (Gal. 4:14). Luke in Acts 15:1-5 records Paul's return to this territory on his second missionary journey when he added young Timothy to his missionary team. If the letter had been written later, then why was Timothy not mentioned in the letter to the Galatians?

  4. The occasion for writing:
    The occasion was the shocking news that had come to Paul (1:6-7) that the Galatian Christians were being infected by legalists who were preaching and teaching "a different gospel" which was not "good news" at all.

  5. The purpose of writing:
    1. To counteract the legalistic Judaizing teaching that was destroying the work of God in Galatian churches.
    2. To ground them in the true doctrine of the Gospel "that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ" (Gal. 2:16).
    3. To defend his personal authority as an apostle. The first two chapters of Galatians has been called "Paul's autobiography" in which he defends himself by presenting his part in the early life of the church. His commission as an apostle is valid, he insists, because it came, not from the Twelve, but from Christ Himself (Gal. 1:1). After his call, Paul has very little to do with the other apostles, not consulting them. And when he did meet with the leading apostles in Jerusalem, after reviewing his life and work, they sent him out with their full blessing.

  6. The character of the letter.
    The letter is from beginning to end a vigorous defense of his gospel of the grace of God and of the Christian's freedom from the Jewish legalism. The letter opens without a lengthy salutation and prayer and jumps immediately into a defense of his authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ and of his message. He uses every means at his disposal, personal and Scriptural, in trying to convince the Galatians of their error in following the false legalistic teachers. At the end of the letter, where ordinarily he just adds his signature to the letters dictated to a secretary, Paul adds a strong statement in large letters, indicating his deep concern.

  7. The fundamental theme:
    1. Justification through faith (Gal. 2:16), and
    2. Freedom from the law (Gal. 5:1, 13).

  8. Basic presuppositions of Paul's thinking:
    1. Salvation by the grace of God through faith apart from the works of the law.
    2. The freedom in Christ from sin and from the law.


[1] J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians
(Tenth Edition; London: Macmillan & Co., 1890), pp. 18-35.

[2] William M. Ramsay, A Historical Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians
(New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1900), pp. xi, 478.