Epistle of the Galatians
New Catholic Dictionary

Written by Saint Paul to warn the churches of Galatia not to heed those
who were urging them to submit to circumcision. These false teachers,
known as Judaizers, announced that all Christians must be circumcised in
order to be saved; according to some scholars their doctrine took the
milder form of teaching merely that circumcision was necessary, if not
for salvation, at least for Christian perfection. In either case they
found Paul opposed to them and consequently tried to lessen his authority
with the Galatians by representing him as a mere disciple of the other
Apostles and as one who had failed to learn the Gospel correctly, since
on this important point of circumcision he was at variance with the real
Apostles. In this epistle Paul first vindicates the supernatural origin
of his doctrine showing that he had received it directly from Christ and
not from men (1), and then he recalls the historic occasion when he had
laid his doctrine concerning circumcision of the Gentiles before the
Apostles at Jerusalem and they had fully approved it (2). Appealing to
the spiritual experiences of the Galatians and to the testimony of
Scripture, he proves that salvation is through Christ alone (3; 4). The
Galatians then are not under the bondage of the Old Law; still they must
not abuse their
Christian freedom to commit sin. The Judaizers are seeking their own
glory, not the good of the Galatians; true glory is found only in the
cross of Christ (5; 6). Paul writes at least the last few lines with his
own hand.

The epistle was probably addressed to the churches in Galatia Proper,
situated in the north-central part of Asia Minor. Galatia, however, was
also the name of the Roman province embracing Galatia Proper and the
region to the south of it in which were Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium,
Lystra, and Derbe, the cities evangelized by Paul on his first missionary
journey; many hold that the epistle was addressed to these southern
churches. Hence there are two theories regarding the churches addressed,
the North Galatian and the South Galatian theories. The South Galatian
theory was formulated by Mynster in 1825 and became popular toward the
end of the last century. The North Galatian theory never lacked able
defenders and in recent years has been coming into favor again; its chief
recommendation is that it better satisfies the strict demands of the text
of the epistle especially in the phrase "through infirmity of the flesh"
(4:13) in which Paul says that he had first preached among the Galatians
because of some illness. No such sudden illness seems possible as an
explanation for the beginning of the strenuous and deliberately planned
work of the Apostle in the Church of southern Galatia as described in the
Acts of the Apostles. Besides, the Galatians seem to have been bewildered
by the novelty of the attack made on their faith by the Judaizers, but
this could hardly have been the case in southern Galatia where Paul had
published the decisions of the Council of Jerusalem and where in
consequence the tactics of the Judaizers must have been well known. The
epistle was probably written, either from Ephesus or Corinth, between
A.D. 55 and 58. It was only on his second missionary journey that Paul
preached in Galatia Proper, and from the epistle it seems that at the
time of writing he had revisited it on his third journey. The South
Galatian theory admits a much earlier date, some of its advocates even
considering this the first of all Paul's epistles. Controversy has long
raged concerning the identification of the visit to Jerusalem (2); some
seek to make it the same as the alms-visit of Acts, 11, 30, but there
seems to be no doubt that it is to be identified with the visit described in Acts,
15, where the question of circumcision was decided.