Which Galatia? (Galatians 1)

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At the time Paul wrote his letter to “the church in Galatia” (Galatians 1:2), the Roman province by that name extended from north-central Asia Minor (Turkey), where the Gauls (Galatians) had settled centuries earlier, to south-central Asia Minor, which had been incorporated into the province at the end of the first century B.C. Did Paul address his letter to believers in the north, who would be ethnic Galatians, or to those living in the southern part of the Roman province?

Acts indicates that Paul travelled to Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe during his first missionary journey (Acts 13:14-14:21). Although Luke did not refer to them as Galatian cities, they did belong to the southern part of that province. If Paul wrote this letter to believers in those cities shortly after  that first journey, this would have been his first letter – and probably the oldest document in the New Testament. On the other hand, Acts 16:6 and 18:23 may indicate that Paul also travelled through northern Galatia during his second and third missionary journey. If so, he may have addressed this letter to churches he had founded at that time.

This issue is important for determining the destination and date of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, as well as for interpreting crucial passages that relate to the apostle’s life. The “South Galatian theory” dates the letter to about A.D. 49-50 and the “North Galatian theory” to the mid-50s. Some scholars believe that Galatians 2:1-10 refers to the Jerusalem council of Acts 15, while others see it as a reference to the famine visit of Acts 11.

Many scholars doubt that Paul would have referred to his readers as “Galatians” (Galatians 3:1) if they were not ethnically Galatians. Others feel that it would have been the most appropriate term for believers of various ethnic backgrounds, who all lived in that Roman province. Some interpreters argue that, in describing geographic locations and ethnic groups, Paul would have used the same terms that his contemporary and fellow Jew Josephus used. This famous historian appears to have considered all the inhabitants of the Roman provoince of Galatia to be “Galatians”.

Today most scholars hold to the “South Galatian theory”, believing that the letter refers to the churches Paul evangelized in that region (Pisidian, Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe). In fact, there is no clear evidence that Paul ever evangelized the northern Galatian region.


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