Thursday, December 02, 2004

Book of Galatians Introductory Questions

Book of Galatians Introductory Questions

a. Authorship Who wrote it? (Author) When and Where did he write it? (Date and Place of Origin)

Paul introduces himself as the author of Galatians in chapter one, verse one. The style and content bring no doubt on the authenticity of Pauline authorship. The location from which and the time period in which the book was written is more debatable. These questions are dependent upon the assumption of whom exactly is the audience of the letter. (See section b.) The most likely audience is the churches of the southern Galatia area. Given this assumption, one would conclude that the period the letter was written was before the Jerusalem council mentioned in Acts 15. Looking at the content of Galatians 211-15 and Acts 15 one might conclude that they are separate accounts of the same event. This is problematic because Paul explains his contact with the Apostles and James, the half brother of Jesus, in Galatians. His account is meant to show a balance of respect for other church leaders but also show his true source for authority being the call of God on his life. It would not make sense to detail the number of contacts he had with the Jerusalem leadership and leave out one of the contacts. The most natural way to correlate Acts and Galatians accounts of Paul's first and second visits to Jerusalem are as follows

First Visit

Acts 9:26
And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.

Galatians 1:18
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.

Second Visit

Acts 11:30
And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

Galatians 2:1
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.

This second visit was one that is not detailed in Acts but is explained at length in Galatians. This second visit proceeded the Jerusalem council and probably prepared them to deal with these issues later. The Jerusalem council of Acts 15 has been placed at about A.D. 48 and the letter of Galatians just shortly before the council in A.D. 48. Perhaps Paul was in Antioch when he wrote the letter (Acts 1426).

b. Audience To whom did he write it? (Destination, Readers) Characteristics
Non-Christian or Christian; Jewish or Gentile (if mixed, which predominates?)

The term Galatian initially referred to the Gaul tribes living in the north central part of what is now the Turkish peninsula. They settled this region in the third century B.C. The Galatian kingdom was expanded south in the first century B.C. The Romans took over the kingdom and made it a province. So under the Romans, the province included ethnic Galatians in the north and a mix of peoples in the south. This southern area also included Jews of the Diaspora. Later, after the third century, the Romans changed the Galatian border by moving it north so the southern cities were excluded from the provience. Traditionally the church has thought of the term Galatian to mean the northern area, thinking in terms of the later Roman provience. This may be because subsequent generations of Christians assumed that Paul meant the same thing they did when he used the term Galatian. Some what analogous, we do not mean the same area as Lewis and Clark did when we say Louisiana.
The substantive arguments for a southern Galatian audeince are linguistic and geographic. Of linguistic arguments, we have already alluded to the fact that it is not enough to merely assert that Galatian means Gaul. Place names and ethnic groups are dynamic and change with time and usage. Paul often used Roman imperial names which would included the southern part of Galatia. According to F.F. Bruce, the best meaning of Òthe region of Phrygia and GalatiaÓ in Acts 166 and its parallel passages is as follows

"the territory through which Paul and his friends passed after leaving Lystra, the territory in which Iconium and Pisidian Antioch were situated."

From a perspective of geography, the challenges of travel in ancient times make it likely that Paul, who was suffering from a malady, would stick to well established routes. The northern route does not seem to be a well traveled route and was rural in nature. Paul tended to stick to cities, at least in evangelizing. Additionally, the Jewish Diaspora was not well settling in northern Galatia. The emphasis on circumcision is more likely to come out of a community which was at least familiar with this Jewish practice. The audience is definitely Gentile who were being asked to take on Jewish covenant sign of circumcision.

c. Composition Why did he write it? (Occasion and Purpose/Theme)

Paul is up front with his intention for writing; the Galatians were abandoning the Gospel for another. There were those who promoted circumcision and thwarted the freedom of the Gospel. Given the questions of authority addressed by Paul, these promoters of circumcision may have been asserting their own authority. They may have been Jewish or Gentile but they claimed legitimacy based on their circumcision (Gal 512) and the Jewish law. Not only does Paul counter their claims by explaining the freedom of the new covenant, he addresses issues of a moral life. Possibly he addresses this to clarify that Christian freedom is not freedom to do evil. In this way he would preempt any opposition which would say Paul was promoting immorality. Again PaulÕs main concern is that the Gospel of Christ not be replaced by a system of merit based on Jewish law.
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