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The Epistle to the Galatians is a book of the New Testament. It is a letter from Paul of Tarsus to a number of early Christian communities in the Roman province of Galatia in central Anatolia. It is principally concerned with the controversy surrounding Gentile Christians and the Mosaic Law within Early Christianity. Along with the Epistle to the Romans, it is the most theologically significant of the Pauline epistles, and has been particularly influential in Protestant thought.


This epistle addresses the question "Was the Mosaic Law binding on Christians?" After an introductory address (Gal 1:1–10), the apostle discusses the subjects which had occasioned the epistle.

In Chapter 1 he defends his apostolic authority (1:11–19; 2:1–14). Chapters 2, 3, and 4 show the influence of the Judaizers in destroying the very essence of the gospel. Chapter 3 exhorts the Galatian believers to stand fast in the faith as it is in Jesus, and to abound in the fruit of the Spirit. Chapter 4 then concludes with a summary of the topics discussed and with the benediction, followed by 5; 6:1–10 teaching about the right use of their Christian freedom. For example, it is clear that some took "freedom in Christ" as justification of antinomianism.

In the conclusion of the epistle (6:11), Paul writes, "Ye see how large a letter I have written with mine own hand." It is implied that this was different from his ordinary usage, which was simply to write the concluding salutation with his own hand, indicating that the rest of the epistle was written by another hand. Regarding this conclusion, Lightfoot, in his Commentary on the epistle, says: "At this point the apostle takes the pen from his amanuensis, and the concluding paragraph is written with his own hand. From the time when letters began to be forged in his name (2 Thess 2:2; 3:17) it seems to have been his practice to close with a few words in his own handwriting, as a precaution against such forgeries... In the present case he writes a whole paragraph, summing up the main lessons of the epistle in terse, eager, disjointed sentences. He writes it, too, in large, bold characters (Gr. pelikois grammasin), that his hand-writing may reflect the energy and determination of his soul." Alternatively, some commentators have postulated that Paul's recurring illness was poor eyesight, which caused him to write in characteristically large letters.[1]

Galatians also contains a catalogue of vices and virtues, a popular formulation of Christian ethics.

An interesting literary interpretation of this period of Christianity and the character of Paul can be found in Rudyard Kipling's short story "The Church that was at Antioch". A Roman soldier and follower of Mithraism discovers the faith on his death bed, after having tried to defuse tension between the Gentile and Jewish Christians over issues of Mosaic Law such as circumcision and the preparation of food.

Historical context


Paul's letter is addressed "to the churches in Galatia" (Galatians 1:2), but the location of these churches is a matter of debate. A minority of scholars have argued that the "Galatia" is an ethnic reference to a Celtic people living in northern Asia Minor, but most agree that it is a geographical reference to the Roman province in central Asia Minor, which had been settled by immigrant Celts in the 270s BC and retained Gaulish features of culture and language in Paul's day. Acts of the Apostles records Paul traveling to the "region of Galatia and Phrygia", which lay immediately west of Galatia. The main theme was that the people of Galatia have turned away from Christ's teachings.

The churches of Galatia (Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe) were founded by Paul himself (Acts 16:6; Gal 1:8; 4:13, 4:19). They seem to have been composed mainly of converts from paganism (4:8). After Paul's departure, the churches were led astray from Paul's Christ centered teachings by individuals proposing "another gospel" (which centered around Judaism and salvation through the Mosaic Law, so-called Legalism (theology)), whom Paul saw as preaching a "different gospel" than that of Jesus Christ (which was centered around salvation by God's grace and Christ's atonement, not the "works" of the Mosaic law). (1:6–9). The Galatians appear to have been receptive to the teaching of these newcomers, and the epistle is Paul's response to what he sees as their willingness to turn from his teaching.

The identity of these "opponents" is disputed. We do not have a record of their activity, but are left to reconstruct it from Paul's response. However, the majority of modern scholars view them as Jewish Christians (i.e. Judaizers), who taught that in order for pagans to belong to the people of God, they must be subject to some or all of the Jewish Law. The letter indicates controversy concerning circumcision, Sabbath observance, and the Mosaic Covenant. It would appear, from Paul's response, that they cited the example of Abraham, who was circumcised as a mark of receiving the covenant blessings (Genesis 17), see also Abrahamic religion. They certainly appear to have questioned Paul's authority as an apostle, perhaps appealing to the greater authority of the Jerusalem church governed by James the Just.

Paul responds angrily; he relates his conversion and apostolic credentials, his relationship with the Jerusalem Church, and engages in a debate over the interpretation of the Abraham story.

Date and audience

Galatians was presumably written between the late 40s and early 50s.[2]

There are three main theories about when Galatians was written and to whom. The North Galatian view holds that the epistle was written very soon after Paul's second visit to Galatia.[3] The visit to Jerusalem, mentioned in Gal 2:1–10, seems identical with that of Acts 15, or Acts 18:22, and it is spoken of as a thing of the past. Consequently, the epistle seems to have been written after the Council of Jerusalem. The similarity between this epistle and that to the Romans has led to the conclusion that they were both written at the same time, namely, in the winter of AD 57–58, during Paul's stay in Corinth.[4] This letter to the Galatians is written on the urgency of the occasion, tidings having reached him of the state of matters; and that to the Romans in a more deliberate and systematic way, in exposition of the same fundamental doctrines of the gospel. It should be noted that the Gospel of Luke and Acts which is said to be written by the same author as Luke were written much later than Paul's epistles therefore its most likely Paul's description of the Council or Jerusalem in c50 CE was written decades before Luke and Acts so the reference above is backwards. Paul's description of the Council of Jerusalem was written before Acts and is therefore the more accurate. In Acts (c70-80CE) written later than Galatians, Peter claims that Jesus selected him to minister to the Gentiles which is the opposite of what Paul states in Galatians 2:7 "...they saw that God had given me the task of teaching the Gospel to the Gentiles, just as he gave Peter the task of teaching the Gospel to the Jews". According to Paul, Peter was firmly in the camp of those insisting Gentiles must first be circumcised and follow Mosaic Law to the point of having sharp words with Paul Galatians 2:11 "But when Peter came to Antioch I rebuked him in public for he was clearly wrong." In fact when men sent by James the Just (brother of Jesus and leader of the Jerusalem Jesus Movement) arrived there, Galatians 2:12 "Peter had been eating with the Gentile Believers but when these men arrived, he drew back and would not eat with the Gentiles". Peter was certainly subservient to James the Just who was the leader of the Jerusalem Jesus Movement in Galatians while in the much later Acts Peter is the one chosen by God to preach to the Gentiles and the protagonist for the Gentiles at the Council of Jerusalem while in Galatians the situation is reversed. It's more likely the later Acts written by the same author as Luke whose works were slanted towards Gentiles was a rewrite to provide the basis for the claim of Peter as the Rock on which the orthodox Christian church was based alone with the invention of Apostolic succession. It was James the Just who succeeded Jesus and was executed by Anas is c60CE and that until then Peter was one of the Apostles but not the leader of the group. If one must chose between a later autograph accepting as the argument goes above that there is no doubt Paul wrote Galatians, then it's likely that the author of Luke and Acts glossed the story to support the position the reapidly evolving Jesus Movement to support the views of those leading the movement (church) at that point.

The South Galatian view holds that Paul wrote Galatians before or shortly after the First Jerusalem Council, probably on his way to it, and that it was written to churches he had presumably planted during either his time in Tarsus (he would have traveled a short distance, since Tarsus is in Cilicia) after his first visit to Jerusalem as a Christian[5], or during his first missionary journey, when he traveled throughout southern Galatia. If it was written to the believers in South Galatia, it would likely have been written in 49.[6]

A third theory[7] is that Galatians 2:1-10 is the visit of Acts 11:30. This theory implies that the epistle was written before the Council was convened, making it the earliest of Paul's epistles.

Textual criticism

No original of the letter is known to exist. The earliest reasonably complete version available to scholars today, named P46, dates to approximately the year 200 A.D., approximately 150 years after the original was presumably drafted. This fragmented papyrus, parts of which are missing, almost certainly contains errors introduced in the process of being copied from earlier manuscripts.[8] However, through careful research relating to paper construction, handwriting development, and the established principles of textual criticism, scholars can be rather certain about where these errors and changes appeared and what the original text probably said. [9]


Virtually all scholars agree that Galatians is one of the most certain examples of Paul's writing.

The main arguments in favor of the authenticity of Galatians include its style and themes, which are common to the core letters of the Pauline corpus, and the historical connection to Acts of the Apostles. Moreover, Paul's description of the Council of Jerusalem (Gal 2:1–10) gives a different point of view from the description in Acts 15:2–29.

The central dispute in the letter concerns the question of how Gentiles could convert to Christianity, which shows that this letter was written at a very early stage in church history, when the vast majority of Christians were Jewish or Jewish proselytes. This puts it during the lifetime of Paul himself.

There is no hint in the letter of a developed organization within the Christian community at large.


  1. Galatians, Tyndale New Testament Commentary, revised edition, page 233.
  2. M. Coogan, ed. The New Oxford Annotated Bible (Oxford University Press: New York, 2001), 309 NT.
  3. Acts 18:23
  4. Acts 20:2–3
  5. Acts 9:30
  6. J. Hayford, ed. New Spirit Filled Life Bible (Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville: 2002) 1628.
  8. Ehrman, Bart (2005) Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, HarperSanFrancisco. ISBN 0-06-073817-0. page 60.
  9. Metzger, Bruce M., A Textual Commentary on the New Testament, 2nd ed., United Bible Societies, 1994. 1*-16*. ISBN 3-438-06010-8